Cover Story: Mine Fields: Injured Iraq / Afghanistan Contractors Fight to Get Compensated for War Wounds

Categories: Cover Story

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Monica Fuentes
In the summer and fall of 2004, 58-year-old William Manning was working east of the Green Zone in Iraq. As a labor foreman, Manning, a marine Vietnam vet, was overseeing and escorting other civilian contractors at a work site near the police academy where Iraqi rookie cops were trained.

The academy was a hot target for the insurgents, and according to federal court documents, it came under mortar fire five to 16 times every day.

On October 4, 2004, Manning's number came up. A mortar exploded approximately 12 feet from where he was standing. Shrapnel and and pieces of a building ripped through his legs, neck, nose, and arms, and the side of his head was badly burned by the flames and gas from the blast. Some of his teeth were knocked out, and his sense of smell and hearing were never the same.

Manning was med-evaced to Camp Anaconda, and then shipped to Germany for further treatment. There, his employer at the time -- Service Employees International, Inc., informed him that they wanted to ship him back to Texas for better treatment.

Back to Texas he went. And two years later, he was still waiting to get that treatment, according to court documents. Nobody from his work even met him at Intercontinental Airport. After three hours waiting, a fellow marine took pity on Manning and took him home.

For the next few months, the only treatment Manning received for his injuries was administered by the VA, who gave him pain medications. He still had headaches, and a ringing in his ears, and, as he put it in the court documents, "just throbbing that goes along with this type of concussion wound."

Since he was no longer getting treatment, and since his workers' compensation insurance company -- AIG subsidiary Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania -- denied his claim, Manning hired Houston attorney Gary Pitts, and expert in the field of getting injured Iraq/ Afghanistan contractors their due.

Pitts advised Manning to see a bevy of doctors. Neither his employer nor his insurance carrier would pay for any of these visits. In June of 2005, a doctor told Manning that he needed to see both an opthamologist and an ENT. Payment for those visits was not forthcoming from his employer or carrier. Another doctor recommended that he see those two specialists as well as a neurologist. Those recommendations were likewise denied.

And so it went for months and then years. AIG denied his claims, and he collected no disability payments. "[Manning] testified [in 2006] that the whole ordeal has been stressful in that he had been without compensation, food and essentially homeless since his return from Iraq. He planned to work for employer for three years to get him in to retirement."

Instead, he worked a few months, got blown up, and then was abandoned, reduced to living in his car.

Thanks to Pitts, Manning finally did get what was coming to him, but only after dragging AIG into court. The same story has occurred again and again, and though Pitts allows that things have improved somewhat in recent years, contractors are still forced to drag AIG and other insurers to court before they see their first thin dime.

Read more in Mine Fields, this week's cover story.

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