Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Civilian Wounded in war, ill-treated at home

Wounded in war, ill-treated at home
May 05, 2008
This is what Mike Helms got for serving his government in Iraq: An armful of shrapnel. Traumatic brain injury that left him changed and damaged the relationships he had before the war. And almost no help in getting the medical treatment he needs.

The federal government is not doing enough to help some civilian employees wounded while deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the House Armed Services Committee said in a new report.

Civilian employees like Helms, a counterintelligence specialist, do not fall under the military disability system. Their injuries aren’t covered by their usual health insurance but by workers’ compensation.

But the Labor Department’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs is not equipped to handle civilians’ wartime claims, the committee said.

OWCP does not adjudicate combat wounds any differently than workplace injuries, the committee said in its report, “Deploying Federal Civilians to the Battlefield: Incentives, Benefits and Medical Care.” But, claims officers aren’t trained to recognize unique combat injuries; claims processing is paper-based and “antiquated,” and injured federal employees have little support when trying to prove they were wounded at war, the report said.

“Do they have to become a workers’ comp expert from Day One to get treatment?” asked committee chairman Rep. Vic Snyder, D-Ark.

Some wounded civilians are not allowed access to the military medical facilities that are doing the latest research on prosthetics, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder, Snyder said.

Helms has been battling OWCP and the Defense Department to get treatment since he was caught in a roadside bombing outside of Samarra, Iraq, in June 2004. Helms, who is assigned to the Army’s 902nd Military Intelligence Group, was stationed in the dangerous Sunni Triangle area in December 2003 to help collect intelligence on insurgent operations.

He lived and fought much like the soldiers he served with in units like the Army’s 1st Brigade, 4th Infantry Division and often manned a Humvee’s M60 turret gun during convoys. But after he was wounded, Defense started treating him differently from the soldiers.
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