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After 1,300+ Contractor deaths, Military death toll in Iraq does not tell the whole story May 26, 2009

Posted by Aaron Walter in Uncategorized.
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In a Memorial Day Washington Post column, columnist Steven Schooner raises a point familiar to this blog. In media coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the more than 1,000 civilian contractors killed, and nearly 29,000 injured are generally portrayed as a footnote, a byproduct of the war like its monetary cost.

The columnist notes that contractors should not expect a vote of thanks from President Obama, rather

expect to see contractor personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be portrayed as expendable profiteers, adventure seekers or marginalized members of society who are not entitled to the same respect or value given to members of the military.

I actually blogged about Mr. Schooner’s March 2007 Houston Chronicle article on the same theme last year.

Below is the new column from May 25, 2009 by Steven Schooner:

Remember Them, Too
Don’t Contractors Count When We Calculate the Costs of War?

By Steven Schooner
Monday, May 25, 2009

 Despite the light that Memorial Day will shine, briefly, on the U.S. death tolls in Iraq and Afghanistan, don’t expect an accurate accounting of the real human cost of our military actions abroad. The numbers you’ll see — mostly likely just under 5,000 fatalities — won’t tell the whole story.

As of June 2008 (the most recent reliable numbers available publicly), more than 1,350 civilian contractor personnel had died in Iraq and Afghanistan supporting our efforts. About 29,000 contractors had been injured, more than 8,300 seriously.

But don’t expect President Obama to remember or thank the contractor personnel who died supporting our troops or diplomatic missions. Instead, expect to see contractor personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan continue to be portrayed as expendable profiteers, adventure seekers or marginalized members of society who are not entitled to the same respect or value given to members of the military.

That portrayal, of course, is neither accurate nor fair. Most contractors perform tasks that a generation ago would have been done by uniformed service members. A significant number of these contractors are former members of the military who believe they’re answering the same call they would have answered had the crisis arisen while they were on active duty.

Many of the victims are Iraqis and other foreign nationals working under U.S. government contracts. But whether or not they are U.S. citizens, the central fact remains: If our military was less dependent on contractors, these fatalities probably would have been of uniformed service members.

An honest, accurate tally is important because the public — and, for that matter, Congress — does not grasp the level of the military’s reliance on contractors in the battle area, nor the extent of these contractors’ sacrifices. Simply put, the contemporary, heavily outsourced U.S. military cannot effectively fight or sustain itself without a significant, if not unprecedented, presence of embedded contractors. In Iraq, our contractor-to-troop ratio has exceeded 1 to 1. The State Department admitted last summer that it could not remain in Iraq without heavy reliance on private security.

An accurate tally is critical to any discussion of the costs and benefits of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan. War proponents benefit from the massive contractor presence because it permits them to suggest that our military presence is smaller than what is actually required. And to the extent that the public cares about military fatalities, the human cost of our efforts in Iraq appears much smaller than it would if we didn’t rely so heavily on contractors.

In 2006 and 2007, the contractor death rate climbed dramatically. After much smaller numbers during the first three years of the Iraq war, at least 301 civilian contractors died in 2006. At least 353 civilian contractors died in Iraq in 2007, while 901 U.S. military personnel died there. In other words, in 2007, contractors accounted for more than one in four deaths associated with the U.S. occupation.

If anything, the number of contractor deaths is understated. Last year, for the first time, Congress began to require the Pentagon, the State Department and the Agency for International Development to keep track of how many contractors are working in Iraq and Afghanistan and how many have been killed and wounded. The Defense Department recently conceded that it is trying but is not yet up to the task.

The Labor Department generates but does not publish data quarterly on contractor deaths, but only because insurance claims are filed with its Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation. (American contractors are required to provide Defense Base Act insurance, which falls under that program.) If a contractor’s family or employer does not seek insurance compensation, that death isn’t counted. There’s no doubt that the allied death toll is significantly higher than reported and that contractors bear a far greater burden in this regard than the public appreciates.

In a representative democracy, public awareness of the human cost of our engagements abroad is critical. If we’re going to tally the human cost of our efforts, the public deserves a full accounting.

The writer, a retired Army Reserve judge advocate, is co-director of the Government Procurement Law program at George Washington University. He was a White House procurement policy official from 1996 to 1998. He published an academic article, “Why Contractor Fatalities Matter,” in the Autumn 2008 issue of the Army War College’s quarterly journal, Parameters.

Read Steven Schooner’s entire article in context at: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/05/24/AR2009052401994.html

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Comments»

1. john - May 28, 2009

I was injured while working for KBR in Afghanistan. AIG started off paying $900.00 a week. Then i got a lawyer and they cut me off. Then we asked for an informal hearing and they started giving me $220.00 a week. Were they even come up with these numbers is beyond me. Does anyone know what happens after the informal hearing and how long does it take to get answers? If i didn’t get PTSD over there they are sure giving it to me now. Why would our President give that company all that money and let us get screwed so openly? Sure i went for the money but a huge part of it was helping and working along side our armed forces. I take and took great pride in that. And to get a permanent injury, lose my job, get hit with the taxes because i wasn’t their the 330 days. Haven’t i lost enough? I have real injury and i wish somebody would step up and take a look at the in your face abuse these big companies are doing . Obama talked of reform and change. i sure am not seeing it. Being the little guy i guess i won’t. How can a company that owes legitimate claims be aloud to give out millions in bonuses to the management. I’m just a carpenter but sure sounds simple to me. It kinda makes me want to buy a rifle and move to the woods. Maybe those people have something after all. Once again it looks like the lawyers are the ones making all the money. I have a true injury that occurred while i was working. What is there to dispute? It’s not like saying my back hurts. It’s visible why not just pay the claim and save a lot of time and money with judges and lawyers. O i forgot I’m just a Carpenter. Does anybody know if there is a way to e-mail the Whitehouse? Maybe they don’t know what’s happening out here. I did forget to mention three small things my KIDS!!!!! It’s time for CHANGE!!! I have heard that somewhere before.
If anybody has any helpful info please let me know at e-mail: battertonjohn@yahoo.com

Aaron Walter - June 1, 2009

John,

I am not sure how you would go about contacting the White House, but if anyone out there is having similar problems with this system being so slow and frustrating you should not hesitate to contact your local Congressman’s office and see what pressure they might be able to apply to the Department of Labor or the insurance company. Unfortunaly, no one is ever in a hurry to GIVE you what you deserve. Sometimes you have to do what you can to TAKE it.

2. Krash - October 6, 2009

Aaron is right, but also contact your State Senators, Seth Harris at the Department of Labor (address can be found on their website (www.dol.gov), and Congressman Dennis Kucinich (OH) or Senator Carl Levin (MI). There are many politicians involved and aware of what is going on with these injury claims and you just might have to contact more than one, but don’t give up.

3. Jana Crowder - April 15, 2010

I may be able to get you in contact with someone who works for the counsel to the Domestic Policy Subcommittee of the Oversight and
Government Reform Committee in the U.S. House of Representatives. One who works with Peter Tyler, Legislative Director for U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders who is investigating insurance companies’ handling of workers’ compensation insurance claims for civilian contractors.

Also I have Claire Colman(Counsel, Domestic Policy, OGR at U.S. House of Representatives)

Let me know if you would like to contact these people!

4. Daniel Evans - December 28, 2011

I have a question.
If a soldier or a contractor got wounded in Iraq, but died (of those injuries) a year later in the US, is our government counting that death? We cannot reverse Bush’s disastrous decison to attack another country for false reasons. But the truth about the true costs of that war should be known to all.


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