The Los Angeles Times and ProPublica spent more than 18 months examining the hidden world of civilian contractor injuries. The secretive, privatized system required the Times and ProPublica to travel to a dozen states and three countries. Reporters and photographers tracked down and interviewed more than 200 contractors, family members, government, military and corporate officials. To gain access to public records regarding the injured civilians, the Times had to file a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act against the Labor Department. Multiple Freedom of Information Act requests were also filed with different agencies within the Department of Defense. The Times also reviewed more than 10,000 pages of court documents, previously undisclosed government reports and internal corporate communications. Some reporting in this article is based on previous interviews with contractors and contracting officials involved in Iraq and Afghanistan whom the Times has followed since January 2004.
To perform the analysis, the Times and ProPublica used a database of approximately 31,000 claims filed by contractors injured or killed in Iraq or Afghanistan extracted from a larger database maintained by the Labor Department known as the Longshore Case Management System. In analyzing how many claims are disputed by carriers, the Times and ProPublica departed from internal Labor Department criteria. The Times/ProPublica analysis qualified a case in dispute whenever an insurance carrier filed a Notice of Controversion against a claim, thereby potentially delaying payments. The department, however, only qualifies a case in dispute when a Labor examiner has determined that two parties are in disagreement. Once a case is qualified as a "genuine" dispute, it is used as an internal Labor measure to track performance by claims offices.
Upon examination, the Times and ProPublica found that this policy systematically undercounts real world disputes in which injured contractors must wait months, and sometimes years for payments. For instance, Labor does not qualify a case in dispute if a claimant fails to respond to an insurance carriers' protest. However, Labor officials have acknowledged that many claimants never receive correspondence notifying them that their claim is being challenged -- thus preventing them from responding. They also acknowledge that many injured contractors, especially those in Third World countries, may be unaware of their rights to respond to carrier protests. Labor officials have also publicly complained that insurance carriers file "knee jerk" protests which are not supported by evidence. Finally, the Times/ProPublica analysis found scores of cases which dragged on for years and involved attorneys on all sides -- though they were never officially counted by the Labor Department as disputes. As a result, the Times/ProPublica analysis shows dispute rates which are sometimes twice the rate calculated by the Labor Department.