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Returning War Contractors Face Second Battle, Against AIG

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Then, in September 2011, Enzweiler was sent to a neuropsychological evaluation with an AIG-selected doctor. “He said I was perfectly fine,” ­Enzweiler says. “He knew what he wanted to accomplish, and he did the best that he could. He’s entitled to his opinion, but my problem was this: He quoted me as saying that I was perfectly fine and did not have PTSD, that all I wanted to do was sit around and take college courses online and I didn’t want to go back to work. That and many other things were complete and utter lies, and I was so furious when I read his report, I called the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation and filed a complaint.” (Nothing came of Enzweiler’s complaint.)

AIG used that doctor’s assessment to file a controversion of benefits: Enzweiler was on his own. And that was when he called the office of Gary Pitts and Joel Mills. “AIG is very polite until they hear Gary Pitts’s name,” Enzweiler says.

For Pitts, these Defense Base Act cases seem like a labor of love. There’s not a huge amount of money in them, for one thing. Plaintiffs’ lawyers in these cases are paid by the insurance companies on an hourly basis and only on the contingency that they win. (They collect none of their clients’ settlements.) It’s easy to get the sense that Pitts believes he is righting wrongs.

“This is the sad part,” he says. “I’ve seen guys in their fifties move in with their mom, go on food stamps, welfare, go into Ben Taub.”

Contractors will all tell you the general public has the wrong idea about them.

“Because of TV, the public’s perception of a contractor is a drunken Blackwater guy taking a gun and blowing some Iraqi brains out,” says Enzweiler. “They don’t think of a 47-year-old potbellied guy who made bad financial decisions and only took this job because it was the only way to pay off a truck repossession.”

Eighty percent of the guys who worked with Enzweiler were in the same boat, he estimates. Public sympathy for them is minimal, and whether or not the government knows that, it works in its favor.

“There’s a political element to it,” says Pitts. “Whenever you see the war casualty numbers, they don’t include the civilian casualty numbers.”

Steven L. Schooner, a law professor at George Washington University, has written extensively on how the “ultimate sacrifice has been privatized.” Schooner believes that since they perform roles that are essentially military in nature, if not combat, contractor casualty totals should be included in official government totals.

According to his research, from 2001 through 2010, contractors accounted for more than 25 percent of the deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan (5,531 U.S. troops, 2,008 contractors). More than 44,000 contractors have been injured during that same time, 16,000 of them seriously. What’s more, those totals are likely incomplete, since they represent only the number of people for whom an insurance claim has been made.

Contractors are bearing an ever-increasing amount of the casualty burden, Schooner has found. In 2003, contractors represented one in every 25 deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan. From 2004 to 2007, that ratio lowered to one in four. From 2008 to 2010, contractors were 40 percent of the death toll, and in 2009 and 2010, their deaths exceeded those of combat troops in Iraq.

Even when the contractors are American, their deaths seldom make much of a ripple in the news media at home; dead foreign contractors (an increasing proportion of the overall force) are not mentioned at all, unless they are killed alongside one or more Americans. Schooner believes that contractor casualties skew public opinion, that these wars seem less costly because so many allegedly profit-oriented “mercenaries” are dying in place of idealistic patriots in uniform.

To Pitts, contractors are soldiers, pure and simple. In earlier wars, they would have simply been called “support units,” and he adds that no army can function without them: the truck drivers, the cooks and spud-shavers, the construction teams, interpreters and postal service.

Pitts recalls that after the First Gulf War, as a cost-cutting move, the Pentagon deemed it wise to disband a great many of these units. “We didn’t need them in peacetime, and if we had a conflict, then we could just contract them out and then use them while we needed them and it would save us a lot of money,” he says. “That was all fine and dandy as long as it worked the way they planned it, but now here we are in this long, drawn-out guerrilla war where the supply lines are the main target. We’re stuck [with a half-private army]. We could not function overseas without the contractors.”

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