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Saturday, February 24, 2007

Government Contractors: Hidden Casualties, PTSD

Stunning figures reported yesterday:

In a largely invisible cost of the war in Iraq, nearly 800 civilians working under contract to the Pentagon have been killed and more than 3,300 hurt doing jobs normally handled by the U.S. military, according to figures gathered by The Associated Press.

Exactly how many of these employees doing the Pentagon's work are Americans is uncertain. But the casualty figures make it clear that the Defense Department's count of more than 3,100 U.S. military dead does not tell the whole story. "It's another unseen expense of the war," said Thomas Houle, a retired Air Force reservist whose brother-in-law died while driving a truck in Iraq. "It's almost disrespectful that it doesn't get the kind of publicity or respect that a soldier would."

Employees of defense contractors such as Halliburton, Blackwater and Wackenhut cook meals, do laundry, repair infrastruture, translate documents, analyze intelligence, guard prisoners, protect military convoys, deliver water in the heavily fortified Green Zone and stand sentry at buildings - often highly dangerous duties almost identical to those performed by many U.S. troops. The U.S. has outsourced so many war and reconstruction duties that there are almost as many contractors (120,000) as U.S. troops (135,000) in the war zone.

And contractors also get PTSD.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

Another couple of grafs to aquaint ourselves with some of the data before we take a look at the issue of PTSD as it relates to our civilian contractors:

If the contractor deaths were added to the Pentagon's count of U.S. military casualties, the number of war dead would climb about 25 percent, from about 3,000 as of the end of 2006 to nearly 3,800. If the contractors injured badly enough to be off the job for at least four days were added to the nearly 14,000 U.S. troops requiring medical air transport because of injuries, the injury total would rise by about the same percentage.

Early in the war, most of the casualties on the coalition side were military. But with the fall of Saddam Hussein, contractors flowed in behind the troops, and the number of deaths among the contract workers has been increasing each year.

Contractor deaths are less costly politically, said Deborah Avant, a political science professor at George Washington University. "Every time there's a new thing that the U.S. government wants the military to do and there's not enough military to do it, contractors are hired," she said. "When we see the 3,000 service member deaths, there's probably an additional 1,000 deaths we don't see."

Last week, NPR Day to Day had a program about their experiences in Iraq and in folding back into society once they return home. In some aspects, they have a rougher time because they don't have as good of a support system as the military does.

From a November article:

No one knows how many of them have been injured and killed. No one keeps track of how many contractors there are in Iraq. And when they come back, many find themselves abandoned. "Nobody ain't doing nothing for us," said Thompson, 43, who for six months in 2004 drove a supply truck in Iraq for Halliburton subsidiary KBR, the largest corporate contractor in Iraq.

Thompson was paid $1,850 a week while he was there -- far more than he had been earning before the war. "And I'll tell you right now, it wasn't worth it," he said. Thompson said he survived several roadside bombs, mortar and rocket attacks, and countless small-arms firefights as he transported supplies for U.S. troops along Iraq's perilous roads. He returned from Iraq without physical injuries.

But his war wounds are evident in the cocktail of prescription medications he takes every day -- for hostile behavior, hallucinations, depression, insomnia, anxiety, anxiety-related tics and spasms, and hypertension, all symptoms he says he developed during his time in Iraq.

Two doctors in North Carolina have independently diagnosed Thompson with post-traumatic stress disorder, a psychological ailment with symptoms that typically include anxiety, loss of sleep and flashbacks. The government has acknowledged that he is disabled, and he receives a $1,224 monthly Social Security payment.

But Thompson says his claim for treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder was denied by American International Group Inc., or AIG, the insurance company for KBR, on the grounds that there was not enough medical evidence of his trauma.

This from the Chattanooga Times Free Press:

"They've lost their livelihoods, their integrity, their families," said Jana Crowder, a Knoxville homemaker and mother of four who organized the conference. She started a Web site for contractors while her husband, a former contractor, was in Iraq in 2004. He wasn't injured, but her Web site,, attracted the attention of a number of contractors looking for help. She now spends as much as 12 hours a day contacting therapists, attorneys and medical professionals on behalf of injured workers.

E.C. Hurley, director of the Center for Stress and Combat Trauma near Fort Campbell, Ky., held a session for the contractors on post traumatic stress disorder, similar to the debriefing soldiers get when returning from war. He said that 18 percent to 24 percent of combat soldiers experience PTSD, and the percentage can be higher for contractors. "What they are experiencing is the same," Dr. Hurley said. "(Contractors) are more open to talking about it than soldiers are. The military has a mentality that it's a weakness, that it's a career-stopper."

Some contractors noticed problems after they came home and had their first nightmare or lost a job or a girlfriend because of mood swings or a newfound temper. "I would cry and cry, and there were days when I didn't understand what was wrong with me," said Steve Thompson, a 43-year-old from Asheboro, N.C., who said he has been fired from several jobs since coming home from Iraq, lives in his car because he can't afford rent, and believes he has PTSD.

He said the doctor his insurance company pays for him to see is trying to prove that his problems today are caused by an anger problem that existed before he went to Iraq, not PTSD.

Where have we heard this before?

But while soldiers and contractors may share some common experiences, frustrations and traumas, that does not make them natural allies. Fox News ran a four part series in the summer of 2005 exploring this issue [ 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 ]. A few key grafs:

[T]he contractors' profile sometimes isn't seen as being as honorable. Many hold the view that contractors are only in Iraq to make a profit, often stepping on the toes of the military and causing more chaos in regions that already are on shaky ground. In the contractor corps, many civilian workers are former military personnel who say they're trying to make a difference while making a better living. ... Most military personnel are deployed on yearlong missions and some have been deployed two to three times already. Many contractors, on the other hand, get more flexible rest and relaxation (R&R) time and often do get to see their families more often.

These disparities, added with the high intensity found in a combat zone, can result in anger and animosity, as seen in this well-publicized incident from May 2005:

For three days, a group of 16 American contractors in Iraq feared they had stumbled into a different world — one where the U.S. military viewed them, and not Islamic extremists, as the enemy.

The ordeal began May 28 when a group of Marines suspected the contractors for Zapata Engineering (search) of shooting at them and Iraqi civilians in Fallujah. The Marines allegedly bound and roughed up the contractors, who were given orange jumpsuits to wear. They also received a prayer rug and a copy of the Koran (search) and were placed in a cell next to Iraqi insurgent suspects.

The contractors, eight of whom are former military men, wondered how the Marines supposedly could throw the idea of "Semper Fi" out the window and treat fellow Americans so poorly. "If we were terrorists, they would have extradited us so they could have charged us … once they cleared us, they should have let us go," Pete Ginter, one of the Zapata contractors, told in a recent interview. "I think it's some personal vendetta they had against us."

Several of the contractors told the gripe appeared to be financial, stemming from jealousy over the belief that contractors make more money. "How do you like your contractor money now?" one Marine barked, according to those contractors interviewed. ...

Among the contractors are about 20,000 who work for private security companies, some of whom have come under criticism for bad behavior. Witnesses have been quoted telling stories about caravans of intimidating contractors driving fast through Iraqi streets in their SUVs with guns hanging out the window.

Marine Col. John Toolan, who was the military commander of the area that included Fallujah when four private security contractors employed by Blackwater were ambushed and murdered last year, told PBS' "Frontline" that the part of the problem is that the military and contractors have different motivations in a dangerous environment.

"We have a tendency to want to be a little bit more sure about operating in an environment," he said. "Whereas I think some of the contractors are motivated by the financial remuneration and the fact that they probably want to get someplace from point A to point B quickly, their tendency [is] to have a little more risk. So yes, we're at odds. But we can work it out."

From Congressional testimony given by the four widows of the Blackwater contractors who were killed in Fallujah, we glimpse the reality of life as a civilian contractor. Here's one wife's story, find the others here.

See Private Warriors, a Frontline special, for more.

[UPDATE June 30 2007] Dan Rather Reports did a segment on HDNet worthy of viewing called "Civilians at War":

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

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