Defense Base Act & COPD: Do You Qualify for Benefits?

When your COPD diagnosis and health struggles are because of your work overseas, we are here to help. 

At any given time, there are tens of thousands of personnel working overseas under government contracts. As a civilian contractor, you are often exposed to the same hazards as service members. While veterans receive ongoing care and pay, you have to follow a different process to get benefits.

You may qualify for medical and wage benefits through the Defense Base Act because of work-related COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Contact Grossman Attorneys at Law for advice and compassionate representation. We are aggressive in pursuing compensation for civilian contractors through settlement negotiations and litigation. 

Call now at 1-800-940-8048 to set up an initial, no-risk consultation. 

Work-Related COPD

COPD is a chronic inflammatory lung disease, which obstructs the airflow in your lungs. Several conditions can contribute to COPD, including chronic bronchitis and emphysema. Common symptoms of this condition are trouble breathing, coughing, wheezing, tightness in your chest, mucus production, frequent infections, low energy levels, unintended weight loss, and swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet.

COPD is usually the result of long-term exposure to irritating particulates or gases. Some individuals develop it from a lifetime of smoking cigarettes. You may be suffering from COPD because of your work overseas. Occupational exposure to dust, chemicals, and burning fuel is a known risk factor. 

If you are or were the employee of a civilian contractor and developed this condition because of the work you did under a U.S. government contract, contact us right away. You may qualify for compensation under the Defense Base Act or workers’ compensation insurance. To pursue benefits under either, you must establish your work caused your COPD. 

Defense Base Act Coverage

The Defense Base Act is an extension of the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA). The LHWCA and Defense Base Act are federal laws intended to compensate certain federal workers dealing with occupational diseases, injuries, disability, and death. While the LHWCA protects maritime employees, the Defense Base Act specifically protects civilian employees working under U.S. government contracts and on U.S. military bases worldwide. 

The Defense Base Act requires U.S. government contractors and subcontractors to purchase workers’ compensation insurance for their employees who work overseas. The U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Program (OWCP), Division of Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation, oversees the Defense Base Act and ensures contractors’ compliance. 

What Benefits are Available Under the Defense Base Act?

You can receive benefits for an injury, disability, or death that happened in the course of your employment under a contract with the U.S. government. If you are diagnosed with work-related COPD, you are entitled to medical care by the doctor of your choice. 

You can receive disability benefits for: 

  • Temporary Total Disability (TTD): You are entitled to two-thirds of your average weekly wage (AWW) up to a maximum weekly rate.
  • Temporary Partial Disability (TPD): You are entitled to two-thirds of wage loss.
  • Permanent Total Disability (PTD): You are entitled to two-thirds of your AWW up to a maximum weekly rate. Your benefits receive an annual adjustment based on U.S. national average weekly earnings reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
  • Permanent Partial Disability (PPD): You are entitled to two-thirds of your earning capacity loss (for an unscheduled PPD) or TTD for a specific number of weeks for a percentage of permanent employment of a scheduled body part (for a scheduled PPD).

We highly recommend you work with an experienced attorney to ensure your AWW is calculated accurately. 

Additionally, if you are a permanently disabled worker living in the U.S., you are entitled to vocational rehabilitation services. 

Benefits for U.S. Aliens or Non-U.S. Residents

If you are an alien or non-U.S. resident, you are still entitled to wage benefits. However, the benefits can be reduced. You may receive a one-time lump sum payment for half the present value of future compensation. Coverage for your medical treatment cannot be decreased. 

Defense Base Act Death Benefits

If your loved one passed away because of an occupational injury or disease, talk with our law firm about pursuing death benefits. 

The Defense Base Act provides death benefits of:

  • Half a worker’s average weekly earnings to their surviving spouse or one child, or
  • Two-thirds of earnings for two or more surviving dependents, and
  • Up to $3,000 for reasonable funeral expenses.

Death benefits are subject to a maximum weekly rate and receive an annual increase based on U.S. national average weekly earnings reported by the BLS. 

Qualifying for Compensation

There are two main factors affecting whether you qualify for benefits under the Defense Base Act. First, you must be a worker covered by federal law. Second, your injury must arise out of your work. 

Your employment must meet specific criteria for you to qualify for workers’ compensation benefits under the Defense Base Act. You must have worked under: 

  • A private employer on a U.S. military base or lands used for military purposes outside the U.S.;
  • A public work contract outside of the continental U.S.;
  • A contract approved and funded under the Foreign Assistance Act; or
  • An American employer providing services outside of the U.S. for the benefit of the military. 

When you are a covered worker, the next eligibility factor is how you sustained your injury. The Defense Base Act applies to injuries and deaths arising out of and in the course of employment. Our firm has years of experience demonstrating COPD and other occupational diseases arose out of work you performed as a civilian contractor overseas. 

You also may be covered if your condition occurred from factors outside of your regularly assigned duties or work hours because you lived and worked in a hazardous area. This is known as the Zone of Special Danger Doctrine. 

Zone of Special Danger Doctrine

The Zone of Special Danger Doctrine arose in 1951 in the case of O’Leary v. Brown-Pacific-Maxon, Inc., but has been affirmed and expanded several times over the decades. Under this doctrine, you can pursue workers’ compensation benefits when your job as a civilian contractor placed you in a foreign setting where you were exposed to danger. The most common example is war zones, including in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Because of the Zone of Special Danger Doctrine, there is broad coverage for civilian contractors’ injuries and diseases. But not all injuries, conditions, and deaths are covered by the Defense Base Act. Your employer or the insurance provider may deny your claim if it believes your wounds were self-inflicted, which may include harm from smoking cigarettes. If your claim for benefits based on a COPD diagnosis is denied, contact Grossman Attorneys at Law immediately. 

Proving Your COPD Is Work-Related

COPD is a progressive disease, which means it develops over time and gets worse. Because of the delayed onset and often delayed diagnosis of the disease, it can be challenging to prove why you have the condition. But it is not impossible. Work-related exposure is a common cause of COPD, and our law firm has years of experience establishing the underlying cause of this condition. 

You may have been consistently exposed to noxious fumes, smoke, and particles while working overseas. You may have suffered direct exposure because of your job or accidental exposure because of your location. In some cases, inadequate warnings or protective gear may have aggravated the exposure.

Our firm will begin collecting evidence of harmful exposure immediately. Evidence may include your medical records, documents regarding your locations and job duties overseas, and documents regarding the working conditions and hazards at those locations. 

Steps to Pursue Benefits under the Defense Base Act

When you are diagnosed with work-related COPD, your next steps include: 

  • Notifying your employer of your diagnosis as soon as possible;
  • Requesting employer authorization for medical care;
  • Your employer completing Form DOL LS-201;
  • Cooperating with your employer and insurance carrier during their claim investigation;
  • Attending a medical examination arranged by your employer or insurance carrier;
  • Providing documentation and medical reports when requested by the OWCP;
  • Completing Employee’s Report of Earnings, Form LS-200, when requested; and
  • Filing a written Claim for Compensation within one year of the date of your injury or last compensation payment, whichever is later.

Claims for compensation due to COPD can be denied, particularly for civilian contractors who are long-term smokers. If your employer denies your claim or undervalues your AWW or wage loss, contact us immediately. 

Are You Having Trouble Receiving Benefits?

At Grossman Attorneys at Law, we have years of experience pursuing workers’ compensation benefits for civilian contractors harmed overseas. We are known for taking a thorough, aggressive approach to Defense Base Act claims and getting excellent results. 

If you are hitting a wall when it comes to getting benefits, do not hesitate to reach out online or call 1-800-940-8048. We represent individuals living in and outside the U.S., including Canada, Australia, France, England, Scotland, Wales, Uganda, Kenya, and Peru.

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