If you are injured while working as a civilian for a company supporting the U.S. Department of Defense in Iraq, Kuwait or anywhere overseas, you may be entitled to receive Federal workers’ compensation benefits under the Defense Base Act (42 U.S. Code § 1651). One of the benefits, established by the U.S. Congress, is to have attorney representation for free. No attorney’s fees come from a worker’s weekly benefits or settlement. They are awarded to the attorney by the U.S. Department of Labor based on his reasonable time spent on the case.

Injured workers are entitled to weekly compensation while the doctor has them off of work, all of the reasonable and necessary medical care (including the right to a doctor of their choice), and compensation for any permanent disability. The spouse and minor children of a worker, whose death is attributable to the work environment, are entitled to compensation benefits.


What is the Defense Base Act?

Established in 1941, the primary goal of the Defense Base Act was to cover workers on military bases outside the United States. The act was amended to include public works contracts with the government for the building of non-military projects such as dams, schools, harbors, and roads abroad. A further amendment added a vast array of enterprises revolving around the national security of the United States and its allies. Today, almost any contract with an agency of the U.S. government, for work outside the U.S., whether military in nature or not, will likely require Defense Base Act coverage.

Due to the recent abundance of Department of Defense and other Government contracts being awarded, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq, it is more important than ever that companies are familiar with the Defense Base Act. We hope this site can answer all of your questions about DBA insurance.

The DEFENSE BASE ACT, 42 U.S.C. § 1651, provides the same rights and remedies as the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. § 901 et seq. It covers all injuries and occupational illnesses which occurred due to employment in a covered employment. The act applies to employees of contractors who contract with the United States government and its military services on or off military bases overseas. Almost any contract involving the Unites States overseas may entitle a claimant to the benefits of the Defense Base Act whether it involves a school, road or any other structure or service. Such contracts include public works contracts, including construction and service jobs, having anything to do with national defense or war activities. As long as work was being done for the Department of Defense abroad, including, but not limited to, Iraq and Afghanistan.


The first thing you should do after an injury or illness is notify your employer as soon as practicable BUT NO LATER THAN 30 DAYS. Regardless of fault, even your own, you should be entitled to various benefits.


To begin, you are entitled to medical treatment. With few exceptions you are entitled to choose your first medical provider who will be paid by your employer or its insurance carrier. Any change in doctor thereafter may require the consent of your employer. Prescriptions and travel to medical providers are also covered. You will not have to advance any medical fees. Your medical expense will be paid as long as your treatment is medically determined to be related to the claim. Your employer has the right to have you examined by a doctor of its choosing to verify the need for treatment and continuing of payments of benefits. Your failure to comply with such an exam could result in the stopping of your benefits.


If you are totally disabled for more than 3 days you may be entitled to additional benefits beyond medical treatment. This act provides for a higher rate of compensation than under normal state laws. Normally, you should be entitled to 2/3 of your average weekly earnings with a maximum of $1,047.16 per week for as long as it is determined that you are not able to return to work.

In addition to loss of earnings benefits, you may also be entitled to either permanent total or partial disability benefits. If you are found permanently totally disabled, your loss of earnings will continue with a yearly adjustment for inflation. You may be permanently partially disabled if you are found to be able to perform some type of work. Compensation for such a finding is based on a schedule for the total loss of use of different body parts. For example:

  • Hand = 244 weeks of compensation;
  • arm = 312 weeks;
  • foot = 205 weeks;
  • leg = 288 weeks;
  • eye = 160 weeks;
  • thumb = 75 weeks;
  • index finger = 46 weeks;
  • middle finger = 30 weeks;
  • ring or pinkie finger = 15 weeks;
  • big toe = 38 weeks;
  • other toes = 16 weeks;
  • bilateral hearing loss = 200 weeks;
  • hearing loss one ear = 52 weeks;
  • disfigurement = $7,500.00

You may be found to have only a partial loss of a bodily part and be entitled to a percentage of the full amount. For example, if you are found to have a 50% loss of an arm, you would be entitled to 156 weeks (one-half of 312 weeks).

In the event of death, benefits are to be paid to the dependants of the employee. Such benefits total ½ of the worker’s average weekly earnings if there is a surviving spouse or one child or 2/3 if 2 or more eligible survivors up to $1,147.16. Funeral expenses up to $3,000.00 are also paid. Permanent total disability and death benefits may be payable for life.



In the event you do not receive your proper benefits timely, or you receive a notice contesting the benefits, you should immediately contact an attorney since there are time limits for protecting your rights to dispute the actions of your employer. Claims must be filed in the appropriate district office of the United States Department of Labor. It should be noted that the New York District is located in Manhattan and is close to our office. The New York District covers all claims arising in Iraq, Afghanistan as well as all of Central and South American, Europe and Africa.

Since the rate of compensation is the basis of both the temporary and permanent award it is crucial to establish the maximum Average Weekly Wage (AWW) that you are entitled to. It is not uncommon for the employer and or their insurance carrier not include all the compensation and prior earning records as to minimize your AWW. Since awards for permanent partial disability are often based on the impairment rating assigned by the physician, such as a 13% permanent partial disability to the arm, it is important that your disability is properly assessed by a physician who is experienced and competent in establishing disability ratings.

Psychological and occupational illness such as carpal tunnel, hearing loss, and chemical exposure, can also be compensable under the Defense Base Act and Longshore and Harbor Workers Act.

Even if you believe you are receiving all your proper benefits, you should still contact an attorney before signing any documents or agreeing to any settlements or attending any examination arranged by your employer. Most attorneys will not charge a consultation fee in these matters so it is better to be safe than sorry.

You should also be aware that persons other than your employer might have caused your injury. In such case you may have a claim separate from your compensation claim. Your employer or its compensation carrier may not advise you of this so you may want to consult an attorney. If you have such a claim, there will be a lien for compensation benefits paid against any recovery in the other claim. However, bringing such a claim will not affect your compensation benefits.