The Defense Base Act: A Brief History and Explanation of the Administration of Benefits

The Defense Base Act is a federal workers' compensation program, which provides medical and wage-replacement benefits to military contractors injured while working on a wide variety of U.S. defense projects worldwide.

Background and History of the Defense Base Act

The 77th Congress of the United States enacted the Defense Base Act, 42 U.S.C.S. § 1651-1654, on August 16, 1941 to provide disability benefits to a previously neglected portion of the American workforce, namely, overseas military contractors. For years, defense contractors working alongside US military forces risked their lives with no guarantee of traditional military benefits provided to their counterparts by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs.

Prior to the enactment of the Defense Base Act, military contractors who sustained serious injuries while contributing to the American war effort found themselves in a “no mans land” when it came to obtaining disability benefits. Although vital to the strength and operation of the American military, these contractors were not entitled to traditional benefits available to active military members. Likewise, as their employment was performed overseas, many of these injured contractors were unable to file for workers’ compensation benefits in their home state. To remedy this frustrating conundrum, Congress enacted the Defense Base Act, which provides lifelong medical benefits and compensation benefits to those injured in the course and scope of their employment at US military bases abroad.

In order to fully understand Congress’ intent in passing the Defense Base Act, one must examine the history of the United States during the later half of 1941. During this historic time period, the country was gearing up for World War II. On July 2, 1941, the Empire of Japan enacted measures to mobilize a standing army of over one million men. On August 9, 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt met with British Prime Minister Winston Churchill onboard a navy ship to formulate the Atlantic Charter which established united military goals for the Allied powers. On December 7, 1941, The Imperial Japanese Navy attacked US military forces at Pearl Harbor. The United States then officially entered the war on December 8, 1941, and the rest is history.

Remobilizing America’s military following the carnage of World War I required a uniquely capitalistic approach to achieve victory in World War II. To maximize America’s war efforts, President Roosevelt deployed both military and non-military personnel throughout Europe and the South Pacific with the aid of the newly enacted Defense Base Act. As President Roosevelt’s then Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson famously proclaimed, “If you are going to try to go to war, or to prepare for war, in a capitalistic country, you have got to let business make money out of the process or business won’t work.” Thus, the widespread use of military contractors in war zones was born, and America prevailed in the Second World War.

The use of military contractors has grown exponentially since the inception of the Defense Base Act. According to a Congressional Research Study from May 2013, defense contractors accounted for 50% or more of the total military force in Afghanistan and Iraq during America’s longest war, The War on Terror.

Governance and Administration of Benefits Under the Defense Base Act

The Defense Base Act is a federal workers' compensation program administered by the United States Department of Labor's Office of Workers' Compensation Programs, Division of Longshore & Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. All new injuries reported under the DBA are processed through the Department of Labor's Second Compensation District office in New York, New York.

Upon receiving notice of an injured defense contractor, all employers must report the injury to the New York office of the Department of Labor through the filing of Longshore Form LS-202 First Report of Injury or Occupational Illness. This report is to be filed in duplicate with the District Director of the Second Compensation District, and is required to be filed within 10 days of a work-related injury. 33 U.S.C. 930(a). Any employer or insurance carrier who fails to submit this report within 10 days will be subject to a civil penalty up to $11,000 for each such failure. 33 U.S.C.930(e).

Once a claim is created, the responsible insurance carrier will either approve the claim and file a Form LS-206 Payment of Compensation Without Award, or deny the claim by filing a Form LS-207 Notice of Controversion of Right to Compensation. In the event the insurance carrier controverts your claim, the Department of Labor will schedule an Informal Conference wherein the insurance company's trained attorneys will argue why your claim should be denied. If no resolution is achieved during the Informal Conference, the matter is referred to the Office of Administrative Law Judges for a formal hearing. Appeals are then taken to the Benefits Review Board, Federal District Courts, and ultimately to the Supreme Court of the United States.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: John-Austin Diamond
During his practice, attorney John-Austin Diamond has obtained extensive experience in litigating claims brought under the Defense Base Act, Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, the Jones Act, the War Hazards Compensation Act, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, Occupational Accident Insurance Law, and New York Workers' Compensation Law.

In addition, Attorney Diamond has recovered tens of millions of dollars in reimbursement under the War Hazards Compensation Act involving claims stemming from statutorily defined war-risk hazards.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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