Wounded DoD Civilians Getting Poor Care

American civil service personnel ordered to deploy to war zones are getting very shoddy medical treatment if they are wounded, Ann Scott Tyson reports in a front page story in today’s WaPo. Rather than being treated in military hospitals and afforded the same benefits as uniformed personnel, they are forced to rely on a hodgepodge of Workman’s Compensation and their standard medical insurance, both of which tend to be inadequate.

During the early 1990s, a directive came down that civilian employees of the Defense Department were part of the “Total Force” and would be subject to deployment along with uniformed military personnel. That struck me as idiotic at the time, given that they are not trained as soldiers, generally are not physically ready for the demands of combat, and are in a gray area with regard to the protections of the Geneva Convention.

Still, anyone who has signed up to work for the DoD since then at least knows that deployment is a possibility when they accept the job. It’s incomprehensible to me, though, that they would not simply be integrated into the military system when so deployed.

Now, I argued yesterday that I am largely unsympathetic to the complaints of private contractors who sign up for hazardous duty for a large paycheck and don’t have adequate medical insurance. They are, essentially, mercenaries who took a gamble and lost.

Soldiers and career employees of the United States Government, however, are in a different category. It’s true that, as Tyson reports, those who accept deployment get a substantial bonus for doing so, “a 70 percent increase over their regular pay plus overtime.” Still, they are doing so out of loyalty to their team or because they can’t afford to quit their jobs. In any case, they’ve made a commitment to serve the country; they’re not private profiteers.

Bureaucracies are hard to reform and this is the first time we’ve deployed civilians on a large scale, so some mistakes were bound to happen. But, unlike some issues, this one strikes me as something that could be fixed overnight. The president merely has to issue an Executive Order making civilian government employees deployed to hazardous duty zones eligible for the same treatment accorded their uniformed cohorts. This one’s a no brainer.

Hat tip: “DC Loser.”

FILED UNDER: Iraq War, Military Affairs, , , , ,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DC Loser says:

    I hope this is an isolated incident. I know that in my organization we had civilians injured in Iraq, and have not heard of any problems through the employee grapevine. I hope Mr. Helms gets the treatment that is due to him.

  2. JKB says:

    It sounds to me that problem is that Mr. Helms got tied up in red tape. He got coded wrong and has gotten someone who is not a go getter at the Department of Labor. Now from past experience, dealing with the DOL OWCP, you are dealing with serious bureaucrats. Forget customer service. Someone goes on maternity leave and your claim sits until they return. And never, ever leave any question blank on the form. Even if it doesn’t apply, such as the question about dependents which doesn’t have a box for “none”. It was much nicer when claims processing was contracted out.

    It is strange that he wants service from Walter Reed after the scandal a few months ago about the treatment of outpatients that sounded a lot like what he is going through now. Also I remember back in the ’80s when the Army was sending doctors to work in inner city ERs to get them experience handling gunshot wounds and other war like injuries because the military system was seeing traumatic injuries.

    Still the entire Cabinet should be working to make sure civilian employees aren’t having trouble getting treatment for injuries or the civilian skills needed in Iraq from all departments will dry up completely.

  3. PJens says:

    One problem is that injuries “received on the job” are treated under workman’s comp. This a horrible “insurance” program that is woefully inadequate for employees serving the DoD.