If you accept work overseas on a military base or through a government contract, your employer must provide workers’ compensation benefits.

While no civilian contractor anticipates a terrorist attack or plane strike, the War Hazards Compensation Act does anticipate such things and entitles you to receive medical, disability, and death benefits.

If you experienced an injury caused by a war hazard, you deserve financial compensation for your losses. This page will explain what the War Hazards Act does, who is covered, and what compensation you can receive.

What is the War Hazards Compensation Act?

After its initial passage in 1942, the War Hazards Compensation Act (WHCA) came into effect in 1943.

With World War II ramping up at the time, the bill’s intent was to make the U.S. government responsible for civilian employees working overseas who were injured or killed during times of war. Civilian injuries were and still are an unfortunate consequence of war. The only way to avoid such consequences is to avoid war entirely, which is not always possible.

Avoiding war in the early 1940s certainly was not an option. Congress felt that the private sector was not prepared to bear the financial risks of something so beyond their control as war. As a result, the federal government stepped in. 

The Defense Base Act (DBA) provides workers’ compensation for civilian contractors working overseas on a military base or government contract.

The DBA provides benefit payments to workers or their families for injuries or death while working on location. Once your application for benefits is approved, the employer’s insurance company pays compensation to the injured worker.

Under the War Hazards Compensation Act (“the Act”), the U.S. government will reimburse the insurance company when it pays compensation for DBA-covered injuries caused by war hazards. If a “war-risk hazard” caused an injury to an eligible employee, then the War Hazards Compensation Act applies.

What is Considered a War Hazard? 

The Act defines a “war-risk hazard” as an injury, death, capture, or detention during an armed conflict. The Act applies whether or not the U.S. has declared war. The WHCA only provides compensation for injuries (or detention) that arise from war-risk hazards. Thus, it is important to know what the federal government considers a war-risk hazard.

Attacks by hostile forces and mishaps on planes or boats in a hostile zone are examples of war-risk hazards.

The Act explicitly includes any danger originating from:

  1. The discharge of any missile or the use of any weapon, explosive, or other toxic things by a hostile force or person or in combating an attack or an imagined attack by a hostile force or person;
  2. The action of a hostile force or person, including rebellion or insurrection against the U.S. or any of its allies;
  3. The discharge or explosion of munitions intended for use in connection with a war or armed conflict with a hostile force or person;
  4. The collision of vessels in convoy or the operation of vessels or aircraft without running lights or other customary peacetime aids to navigation; or
  5. The operation of vessels or aircraft in a zone of hostilities or engaged in war activities.

Any injury covered by the DBA is covered if inflicted by a hostile force or person.

The following are examples of war-risk hazard injuries:

  • Psychological injuries from exposure to armed conflicts, such as PTSD;
  • Catastrophic injury or death from an IED explosion or gunshot;
  • Injuries from running to bunkers during a mortar attack;
  • Slip-and-fall injuries as a result of a terrorist strike;
  • Airplane crashes;
  • Uncontrolled aircraft landings, including helicopter blade strikes; or
  • Specific injuries sustained when departing an aircraft.

The DBA covers most injuries sustained while working overseas, but not all DBA-covered injuries are reimbursable under the Act.

For example, if an employee trips while walking to the mess hall, the DBA will cover the injury, but the government will not reimburse the insurance company under the War Hazard Compensation Act. 

What Does the War Hazards Compensation Act Cover?

Generally, the WHCA covers any federal contractor working overseas who faces injury, death, or disability as a result of a war-risk hazard.

The benefits that the WHCA provides are congruent with the workers’ compensation benefits that any federal employee working within the continental United States has through the Federal Employees’ Compensation Act (FECA).

In addition to those employees covered by the Defense Base Act, the WHCA covers employees providing welfare services for the U.S. Armed Forces and any worker who has coverage through the Non-Appropriated Fund Instrumentalities Act. 

Unlike with Defense Base Act benefits, private employers contracted by the federal government do not administer WHCA benefits through private or self-insurance. Instead, the Division of Federal Employees Compensation (DFEC), an agency of the Department of Labor (DOL), administers WHCA benefits.

To accomplish this, the DFEC directly reimburses employers for their compensation payments. 

WHCA benefits don’t just cover mental or physical injuries and disabilities. This is because physical and mental injuries are not the only hazard of war. Detention by a hostile force during a time of war is a substantial war hazard that overseas federal contractors face. As a result, in addition to compensation for injuries, WHCA benefits extend to any overseas federal contractor subject to detention as a war-risk hazard.

Munitions Discharge Exception

One notable exception to the munitions discharge war-risk hazard affects contractors engaging in munitions production. The WHCA does not consider the discharge of munitions that injure employees during the production, processing, transporting, or storage of munitions by a contractor that engages in those activities as a war-risk hazard.

Detention Claims and Benefits under the War Hazards Act

If you end up detained by hostile forces during your period of employment abroad as a federal contractor, you are entitled to DBA and WHCA benefits.

This is the case even if no mental or physical injury arises out of or during the course of the detention. The rate of compensation for detention claims exceeds the amount typically paid under the DBA or WHCA.

Instead of the typical two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wages, a detained employee is entitled to compensation for 100% of their average weekly wages. For a detained individual’s family, the rate is 70%.

Exceptions to Detention Benefits

There are few things that can exclude you from receiving detention benefits that you would otherwise be entitled to.

Notable exceptions include when an individual is:

  • Detained by the United States as a prisoner of war;
  • Receiving workers’ compensation benefits from a different source for the same detention period;
  • A foreign national entitled to compensation benefits from a foreign country for the same detention period; or
  • Convicted of any subversive acts against the United States or its allies.

These exemptions are not always cut and dry and can be difficult to navigate. Suppose you are unsure whether one of these exceptions applies to you or whether your detention period qualifies you for additional benefits under the WHCA. In that case, we recommend that you speak with an experienced Defense Base Act attorney as soon as possible.

Does the War Hazards Act Cover Terrorist Activity?

There is no text in the WHCA that addresses the definition of terrorist activity. At this time, however, the DOL considers terrorist activity causing injuries and death to be a war-risk hazard that falls within the scope of the WHCA.

Initially, the DOL’s definition of terrorist activity restricted it to the actions of a group of individuals with a political agenda hostile to the United States. However, recently, the DOL dropped the group requirement in the WHCA’s definition of terrorist activity.

Now, the DOL also considers an individual taking action with a political agenda hostile to the United States terrorist activity.

Who Is Covered Under the War Risk Hazard Act? 

An injury or death must first be covered under the DBA to be covered under the War Hazard Compensation Act.

The DBA requires employers engaging in the following types of work to provide workers’ compensation:

  • Work for private employers on military bases or any lands used for military purposes outside of the U.S., including those in U.S. Territories and possessions; 
  • Work on public work contracts with any U.S. government agency, including construction and service contracts in connection with national defense or war activities outside the U.S.;
  • Work on contracts approved and funded by the U.S. under the Foreign Assistance Act, which, among other things, allows the U.S. to sell military equipment, materials, and services to its allies for cash if the contract is performed outside of the U.S.; and 
  • Work for American employers providing welfare or similar services outside the U.S. for the benefit of the Armed Services, such as the United Service Organizations (USO).

The Act applies whether or not you were engaged in the work when the injury or death occurred. It also applies if hostile forces detain you and you cannot return home. Finally, if the insurance carrier contests the validity of your claim, it must dispute it as if the Act did not apply.

Under the law, an employer and insurance carrier must “take reasonable measures to contest, reduce, or terminate its liability by an appropriate available procedure under workers’ compensation law or otherwise.”

The fact that your injury falls under the Act should not affect the value of the compensation you receive.

How Do DBA Benefits and WHCA Work in Tandem?

As an injured party, you don’t need to do anything differently if you believe you have a WHCA claim in addition to a typical Defense Base Act claim.

You may want to indicate to your employer that you believe a WHCA claim is applicable, but it is not your responsibility to do so. Your employer has the most interest in filing a WHCA claim because they receive the reimbursement. If you have coverage through the DBA, you receive the same benefits from your employer under the WHCA as you would under the DBA.

The difference is that under the WHCA, after you receive compensation from your employer through the DBA, the federal government reimburses your employer or their insurance company for any compensation expenses that arise from a war-risk hazard.

To seek reimbursement, the employer files a request with the DOL’s Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.

How Do I Get Compensation Under the War Hazards Act? 

The U.S. Department of Labor manages War Hazards Compensation Act claims through the Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWCP). The timeline to submit a claim under the Act follows the strict requirements of the DBA. In most cases, you must report a claim within 30 days of the incident.

After the initial report, you have one year to file a written claim with OWCP. If you discover a latent injury or illness (called an “occupational illness”), such as PTSD or lung damage, you must file a claim within two years of the discovery. 

How Can a War Hazards Lawyer Help My Claim?

We know that no financial recovery can make up for your losses. However, you are entitled to file a claim under the Defense Base Act after encountering armed conflict. If you are a civilian contractor or the spouse of an employee who passed away overseas, the experienced DBA lawyers at Grossman Attorneys at Law can help.

We understand the uncertainty and fear that follow an injury or death of a loved one. Our goal is to secure you the maximum financial recovery in the most efficient way.

We’ll work with you to collect evidence, file a claim, and defend disputed claims against insurance companies. When you contact our firm you’ll reach your personal attorney, who will answer all your questions about recovery under the War Hazards Act.

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