War Risk Hazards and the DBA: Will It Affect Your Claim for Benefits?

After finding out that you have workers’ compensation protections through the Defense Base Act, you may wonder why there is little if any mention of combat risks and other war-risk hazards in the DBA.

After all, when working on a defense base, the likelihood of facing the hazards of war is much more likely than in practically any other area of employment.

Even without physical injury, psychiatric injury in the form of things like post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are not uncommon for people subject to war-risk hazards. 

If you suffer an injury after an attack on the military base you work at, you likely want to know of war-risk hazards and the DBA: will they affect your claim for benefits?

After all, for DBA workers, war hazards present a unique and serious risk that the vast majority of workers are not subject to. Thus, it is logical to think that the federal government would account for and address those risks somehow.

If you are injured overseas as a result of a war-risk hazard, your injury may fall under the War Hazards Compensation Act (WHCA).

For immediate assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact our experienced Defense Base Act lawyers online or call 1-800-940-8048 today for a free consultation. We can help you calculate your benefits and pursue the maximum compensation available on your behalf.

What Is the War Hazards Compensation Act?

After its initial passage in 1942, the War Hazards Compensation Act (WHCA) came into effect in 1943.

With World War II ramping up at the time, the bill’s intent was to make the U.S. government responsible for civilian employees working overseas who were injured or killed during times of war. Civilian injuries were and still are an unfortunate consequence of war. The only way to avoid such consequences is to avoid war entirely, which is not always possible.

Avoiding war in the early 1940s certainly was not an option. Congress felt that the private sector was not prepared to bear the financial risks of something so beyond their control as war. As a result, the federal government stepped in. 

What Does the War Hazards Compensation Act Cover?

Generally, the WHCA covers any federal contractor working overseas who faces injury, death, or disability as a result of a war-risk hazard.

The benefits that the WHCA provides are congruent with the workers’ compensation benefits that any federal employee working within the continental United States has through the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA).

In addition to those employees covered by the Defense Base Act, the WHCA covers employees providing welfare services for the U.S. Armed Forces and any worker who has coverage through the Non-Appropriated Fund Instrumentalities Act. 

Unlike with Defense Base Act benefits, private employers contracted by the federal government do not administer WHCA benefits through private or self-insurance. Instead, the Division of Federal Employees Compensation (DFEC), an agency of the Department of Labor (DOL), administers WHCA benefits.

To accomplish this, the DFEC directly reimburses employers for their compensation payments. 

WHCA benefits don’t just cover mental or physical injuries and disabilities. This is because physical and mental injuries are not the only hazard of war. Detention by a hostile force during a time of war is a substantial war hazard that overseas federal contractors face. As a result, in addition to compensation for injuries, WHCA benefits extend to any overseas federal contractor subject to detention as a war-risk hazard.

What Is a War Risk Hazard?

The WHCA only provides compensation for injuries (or detention) that arise from war-risk hazards. Thus, it is important to know what the federal government considers a war-risk hazard.

The WHCA defines a war-risk hazard as any hazard that arises during an armed conflict between the United States and any other hostile forces. Whether or not there has been an official declaration of war from either side is not relevant in defining a war-risk hazard.

The WHCA lists a number of different acts that can give rise to war-risk hazards:

  • The discharge of any missile, weapon, explosive, or noxious substance by a hostile force or person;
  • Any action to combat an attack by a hostile force or person;
  • Actions that a hostile force or person takes, including rebellion or insurrection against the U.S. or its allies;
  • Discharge of munitions where the intent behind those munitions is connected to an armed conflict with a hostile force or person;
  • The collision of vessels, aircraft, or vehicles operating without running lights or other navigation aids during armed conflict; and
  • Operation of vehicles, vessels, or aircraft in hostile zones.

A majority of injuries that one can incur during an armed conflict will fall under one of these categories.

Munitions Discharge Exception

One notable exception to the munitions discharge war-risk hazard affects contractors engaging in munitions production. The WHCA does not consider the discharge of munitions that injure employees during the production, processing, transporting, or storage of munitions by a contractor that engages in those activities as a war-risk hazard.

What About Terrorist Activity?

There is no text in the WHCA that addresses the definition of terrorist activity. At this time, however, the DOL considers terrorist activity causing injuries and death to be a war-risk hazard that falls within the scope of the WHCA.

Initially, the DOL’s definition of terrorist activity restricted it to the actions of a group of individuals with a political agenda hostile to the United States. However, recently, the DOL dropped the group requirement in the WHCA’s definition of terrorist activity.

Now, the DOL also considers an individual taking action with a political agenda hostile to the United States terrorist activity.

How Do DBA Benefits and WHCA Benefits Work in Tandem?

As an injured party, you don’t need to do anything differently if you believe you have a WHCA claim in addition to a typical Defense Base Act claim.

You may want to indicate to your employer that you believe a WHCA claim is applicable, but it is not your responsibility to do so. Your employer has the most interest in filing a WHCA claim because they receive the reimbursement. If you have coverage through the DBA, you receive the same benefits from your employer under the WHCA as you would under the DBA.

The difference is that under the WHCA, after you receive compensation from your employer through the DBA, the federal government reimburses your employer or their insurance company for any compensation expenses that arise from a war-risk hazard.

To seek reimbursement, the employer files a request with the DOL’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.

Detention Claims and Benefits

If you end up detained by hostile forces during your period of employment abroad as a federal contractor, you are entitled to DBA and WHCA benefits.

This is the case even if no mental or physical injury arises out of or during the course of the detention. The rate of compensation for detention claims exceeds the amount typically paid under the DBA or WHCA.

Instead of the typical two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wages, a detained employee is entitled to compensation for 100% of their average weekly wages. For a detained individual’s family, the rate is 70%.

Exceptions to Detention Benefits

There are few things that can exclude you from receiving detention benefits that you would otherwise be entitled to.

Notable exceptions include when an individual is:

  • Detained by the United States as a prisoner of war;
  • Receiving workers’ compensation benefits from a different source for the same detention period;
  • A foreign national entitled to compensation benefits from a foreign country for the same detention period; or
  • Convicted of any subversive acts against the United States or its allies.

These exemptions are not always cut and dry and can be difficult to navigate. Suppose you are unsure whether one of these exceptions applies to you or whether your detention period qualifies you for additional benefits under the WHCA. In that case, we recommend that you speak with an experienced Defense Base Act attorney as soon as possible.

If You Need Help, Contact Us Today

If you suffer an injury as a result of a war-risk hazard, you are entitled to the same benefits you are otherwise entitled to by the DBA. If you’re having trouble securing those benefits or need any help whatsoever with WHCA or DBA claims, contact us at Grossman Attorneys at Law today.

If your employer says that they are not responsible for initial compensation after such an injury because of the WHCA, they are wrong. While the federal government is liable for WHCA compensation, WHCA compensation is not paid directly to injured parties but to their employers as a reimbursement.

The lawyers at Grossman Attorneys at Law are experienced in all aspects of the DBA and WHCA and can help you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us online or over the phone at 1-800-940-8048 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for a free consultation.

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