Manila, Philippines – FOR security reasons, the Philippines does not allow the deployment of workers to conflict-afflicted countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq where the United States has a sprawling military base. This policy inspired even the stamping of a page in our passports declaring it not for travel to Iraq. Thankfully, the Department of Foreign Affairs had rescinded that forlorn warning.
How many Filipino workers are employed in the U.S. military bases in Iraq and Afghanistan? Collectively, my guess would be around 12,000 OFWs in these two camps alone. Why are they there despite obvious risks to life? According to a Filipino worker in Afghanistan, he earns at least five times what he would earn here in the Philippines. He also said that the base workers are able to save more because well, there is really nothing much to see and do there.
Of the 6,000 Filipino workers in Afghanistan, 5,000 are in the Kandahar and Bagram air bases while the rest are distributed among the World Bank, UN, the IMF, Red Cross, and other international institutions as well as non-profit organizations.
Threatened with termination by their foreign employers due to the government’s deployment ban to Afghanistan, these workers fought hard for the lifting of the ban at least for those already employed in said companies and offices. Convinced that those already in Afghanistan are safe within the U.S. military premises, the Philippine government relented and settled for a partial lifting of the ban to enable these workers to stay there. However, the ban remains in place for Filipinos outside Afghanistan who wish to relocate there and look for jobs. In Iraq, the deployment ban continues though efforts are ongoing to study the partial lifting of the ban particularly in safer territories such as in Khurdistan.
Unfortunately, there have been cases of Filipino casualties in these places and no salary can be high enough to replace the loss of a loved one so far away from home. In October 2010, a group of Filipinos in Afghanistan onboard a helicopter that was flying from Bagram Air Base to Kabul Airport died when it crashed near Kabul. The cargo plane belonged to Trans Afrique of Ghana, a company that was sub-contracted by a US firm that offers services to the American base.
In Iraq, scores of Filipinos have come home with injuries and traumatic experiences while working in the Green Zone. One worker that I spoke with a couple of years ago, told me that a rocket landed a few meters from his accommodations. He described the sound as deafening, and the experience so traumatic that he had difficulty sleeping at night.
Many of our workers in these U.S. bases are unaware that they are covered by a standard insurance policy as prescribed under a law passed by the U.S. Congress.
Filipino overseas workers employed by firms contracted by the U.S. government for any of its military bases are entitled to workers’ compensation for injuries, medical afflictions, and death under the U.S. Defense Base Act (DBA). This law makes no distinction based on nationality, gender, or age.
Employers of civilians employed in American bases worldwide are mandated under the Defense Base Act (DBA) to secure an insurance policy for its workers. The benefits under this insurance coverage mirror those available under most US states. These insurance policies are usually called “DBA policies” which provide “DBA” benefits.
Barnett & Lerner, a Florida-based law firm, specializes in handling insurance claims for base workers in the U.S. and worldwide. This law firm has sought the help of the Blas F. Ople Center in locating OFWs employed in the U.S. bases that may be entitled to medical assistance and wage claims under the Defense Act.
The two primary classifications of benefits are medical benefits and wage loss benefits. Briefly, a civilian employee is entitled to medical treatment for physical or psychological injuries sustained while working overseas. This medical treatment is provided at no cost to the injured worker, and covers everything related to the injury: office visits, tests, x-rays, surgeries, prescriptions, and mileage reimbursement to and from the doctor’s office. The injured worker even has the right to pick the treating doctor.
Medical care also includes treatment for any psychological injuries, which have become all too common in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many civilian workers, regardless of their past military training or exposure, are returning home with sleep disorders, anxiety, depression, adjustment disorders, and other psychological symptoms not necessarily connected to a physical injury. These conditions are also covered under the Defense Base Act, and workers suffering these symptoms are entitled to medical care for them, including treatment with a psychiatrist, psychologist, or other mental health counselor. If an injured worker’s salary is reduced or stopped because of an injury, the worker is entitled to wage loss benefits.
So if you had worked in a U.S. base in Afghanistan, Iraq, or any other country outside the U.S. and suffered a medical condition or injury while serving your contract, please contact the Ople Center at 8335337 or write to me directly via email@example.com. Barnett & Lerner offers its services free of charge.
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