Journalism in the Public Interest

U.S. Insurance Firm Neglects Survivors of Iraqi Translators, May Face Criminal Charges

Chicago-based CNA Financial Corp. faces possible investigation after failing to pay death benefits to survivors of Iraqi translators working to help the U.S. mission in Iraq.

An Iraqi translator working in Baghdad, Iraq, in August 2007. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

A version of this story was co-published with The Los Angeles Times.

An administrative law judge has referred a U.S. insurance company for criminal investigation after the firm failed to pay benefits owed to survivors of Iraqi translators killed while working for the American government.

Under a federally funded program, Chicago-based CNA Financial Corp. provides insurance coverage to contractors killed or injured while working overseas for the United States. The slain translators were helping to train Iraqi police recruits.

Instead of paying out benefits, however, CNA withheld information from the federal government and avoided making payments to nine families who lost relatives in a 2006 attack, according to court files and interviews. One widow lost her home, unable to keep up payments after her son and other translators were ambushed by insurgents in the southern city of Basrah, one of her attorneys said.

In a ruling this week, administrative law Judge Daniel Solomon ordered CNA to begin making payments to the families. In an unusual move highlighting the government's concern over potential fraud, the judge also told the Labor Department, which oversees the program, to investigate whether the insurance carrier should face criminal charges. A Labor spokesman said the agency would "fully investigate" the allegations to determine whether to ask the Justice Department to prosecute the case.

CNA said it was also looking into the case.

"We are investigating the matter and will take all appropriate actions," said Katrina Parker, a company spokeswoman.

Attorneys for the families said they believe CNA withheld documents to avoid making payments.

"These were people who helped the U.S. in Iraq," said Agnieszka Fryszman, an attorney for the families. "Their families were kicked to the curb when they were most in need of help."

CNA's failure to pay out benefits underscores the continuing problems with the Defense Base Act, essentially the workers compensation system for overseas federal contractors.

The system was little-used until the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan sent hundreds of thousands of private contractors onto the battlefield. All told, the government has paid out nearly $1.5 billion in premiums since 2001.

Reporting in 2009 by ProPublica, the Los Angeles Times and ABC's 20/20 revealed deep flaws in the program. Workers fought long battles for medical care, including such things as prosthetic devices and treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. Foreign workers, including Iraqi and Afghan translators, often did not receive payments or treatment. The Labor Department seldom took action to enforce the law. One official called the system a "fiasco."

Congress subsequently held hearings that showed that American insurers were reaping large profits from the program. Documents showed that CNA reported the highest profits margins, taking in nearly 50 percent more in premiums than it paid out in benefits.

The case decided this week began on Oct. 29, 2006, when insurgents boarded a bus and killed 17 Iraqi-born translators working in Basrah for Sallyport Global Services, a logistics and security contractor. The insurgents later scattered their bodies around the city.

Under the law, CNA was responsible for paying death benefits to the translators' dependents. CNA paid when translators had children and spouses, according to interviews and court records, but not to other survivors. Several translators had no children, but supported parents or other family members.

In such cases, the Labor Department demands proof that survivors relied on contractors' earnings. CNA hired investigators who interviewed nine families, confirmed their eligibility, and even set up bank accounts. But CNA withheld portions of the investigators' findings when it submitted the claims to the Labor Department, court records show.

One CNA file shows that the slain translator had supported his mother, a widow, since his father was killed in the Iraq-Iran war. The town council even issued a statement of support, confirming the translator was his mother's "sole provider." Another CNA file shows that another translator killed in the ambush was sole support for his family, which "could be described as very poor."

But those pages were missing from the information CNA submitted to the Labor Department. As a result, Labor officials accepted CNA's declaration that there were no dependents to pay in any of the nine cases.

The translators' attorneys at Cohen Milstein, a well-known Washington firm doing pro bono work on the case, estimated that CNA owed a total of about $500,000 to the nine families. Instead, CNA paid about $45,000 into a special federal fund set up to help support the workers compensation system.

The company subsequently recovered some of that money plus additional fees under an obscure law—the War Hazards Compensation Act—that allows insurance carriers to recoup costs for contractors killed in hostile acts, court documents show.

In one case, CNA paid $5,000 into the special fund and $518 to a translator's family for burial expenses, but was reimbursed $9,289 by the federal government for investigating and handling the claims.

A Sallyport official said the company believed that CNA had made payments to all of the translators' families except one, which declined to accept money because of security concerns.

In an emailed statement, the company declined further comment due to the litigation. It said it would "continue to monitor the situation and support the families within our remit."

It is about time that criminal charges ARE PUT TO THESE COMPANIES…How about the mortgage cos that screwed the soldiers..would like the DOJ to cut them off at the knees as well!

But then again these are ‘private contractors’  Shameless!

Marcie Hascall Clark

May 23, 2011, 11:36 a.m.

Thank you T Miller for exposing what those of us who are caught in CNA’s web have suspected was going on.
How low will they go?
Maybe we have yet to find out…..

Barry Schmittou

May 23, 2011, 8:49 p.m.

I believe the U.S. Department of Labor and Department of Justice are as guilty and heartless as the insurance companies.

They are personally responsible for the horrible deaths and destruction of many !! If DOL/DOJ were doing their job this would not have taken a Court order !!

The lateness of any DOL/DOJ action is criminal too.

Please go to

There you will see links to quotes from numerous U.S. Judges, and Professors that prove insurance companies and doctors’ they pay are ignoring life threatening medical conditions and inflicting identical deadly crimes on patients who are :

(1) Severely Disabled
(2) Needing Long Term Care
(3) Severely Injured Workers
(4) Severely Injured War Zone Contractors
(5) Families Filing Life Insurance claims

Barry Schmittou

May 23, 2011, 9:40 p.m.

I would like to add that on May 13th I filed a Motion in the U.S. District Court in Nashville titled :

Motion and Memorandum Requesting Court to Appoint A Special Prosecutor To Investigate The U.S. Department of Labor and U.S. Department of Justice’s Failure To Stop Insurance Companies and Doctor’s Paid By Insurance Companies Who Are Ignoring Life Threatening Medical Conditions of Numerous Patients, and Similar Crimes That Are Being Committed By Insurance Companies In Five Different Types of Insurance

I will be filing this ProPublica article with the Court because it indicates that CNA may be removing documents in Injured and Deceased War Zone Contractor cases.

In Exhibit A of the motion I filed you will see quotes from numerous U.S. Judges that prove MetLife is removing documents in U.S. Title 29 disability cases.

Additionally, Judges’ have also written that doctors’ paid by MetLife are ignoring life threatening medical conditions.

You can see this motion and Exhibit A by going to the website seen below, but I believe most people should first get a basic understanding of the very dangerous identical crimes that are being committed by multiple insurance companies in multiple types of insurance that is seen at :

I have had cancer removed from one eye and the motion seen on the next website is not succinct enough but I’ve typed so much my eyes have been fluttering lately.

Here is the link to my motion requesting a Special Prosecutor :

Unum has a pattern of committing the exact same violations that MetLife is :

Here’s a small portion of the evidence I have about Unum :

On November 18th 2004 Unum Provident Insurance Company was involved in a highly publicized settlement with 48 states regarding their inappropriate handling of U.S. Title 29 health insurance claims.

Here are excerpts from the website of the Attorney General of New York :

“The investigations focused on assertions that UnumProvident had inappropriately denied claims for benefits under individual and group long-term disability insurance policies.”

“The settlement announced today requires UnumProvident and its subsidiaries: (1) to reassess approximately 200,000 claims that previously had been denied; (2) to completely restructure their claim handling procedures to ensure objectivity and fairness; and (3) to pay a $15 million fine.”
(end of quotes)

In 2007, Wall Street Journal editorials reported similar stories regarding US contractors failing to meet their commitment to wounded or killed Iraqi translators.  Our son, a Cival Affairs officer who was killed in Karballa in 2007, lost three translators where nothing was done.  This is a sad commentary on our country and it’s support of our shaddow allies.

Barry Schmittou

May 26, 2011, 1:40 p.m.

To T. Christian Miller :

Below is an email that I just sent to top directors’ of the Obama administration regarding this ProPublica report that I’ve referenced in a motion I have just filed with the U.S. Court.

As you’ll see MetLife insurance company also has a practice of withholding very important medical records regarding very sick patients.

The Court filing is linked at the end of this email intro, and also please be sure to view the evidence seen at :

To: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address); .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address);
Date: Thu, 26 May 2011 12:58:58 -0500

Index :

Part 1 - ProPublica writes “CNA withheld portions of the investigators’ findings”

and “the Labor Department seldom took action to enforce the law”

Part 2 - Exhibit S has quotes from twelve U.S. District and Court of Appeals Judges who wrote that MetLife also withholds and ignores very important evidence.

In the court filing I also wrote this :

“Directors of the Department of Labor and Department of Justice have received copies of everything that I have filed in this case from 5/13/11 until now, but they have still taken no action to stop the doctors’ paid by MetLife’s while they ignore brain lesions, Multiple Sclerosis, cardiac conditions and much more.

President Obama’s top Director’s are receiving this email today, but I have no hope that they will take any action to stop the extreme destruction of lives that insurance companies are causing to many very sick patients

I have placed this online at :

Thamir Mohammed

May 28, 2011, 2:49 a.m.

Pls can somebody help I got injury when I work as interpreter but I didn’t get any compassion pls if u can help me email me on .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Johnna Calverase

June 18, 2011, 3:05 a.m.

Thank you for covering this neglected subject. Many of those who went over as civilians are also military vets. I never understood how the media could recognize what the troops do for the war efforts while not recognizing what the civilian contracts do as well. If the media thinks that the contractors do not take the same risks, they are very wrong. In fact a contractor has less medical coverage and has absolutely no employment rights whatsoever. I worked for KBR in Iraq and as a female I had absolutely no rights or anyone to go to for harassment. You did what you were told or you would be on the next plane out of the country. I held my own, but after witnessing the abuse of Filipino women who were employed by KBR to run the military food services I left knowing that there was no one who was even remotely interested in stopping it. In fact the abusers were top KBR management themselves. I often went out on transport movements within the country and while we were told we would have armed escorts, we never did. We were shot at, hit with RPG’s and people were killed. Those who were injured were treated so poorly. One of our other females was hit by a mortar attack on the base and they kept her in a trailer for a week without medical attention until several of us demanded she be evacuated. SHe was sent home eventually and was given no ongoing medical compensation by KBR.

This article is part of an ongoing investigation:
Disposable Army

Disposable Army: Civilian Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan

War contractors return home with the same scars as soldiers, but without the support.

The Story So Far

Civilian contractors have been an indispensable part of the U.S. war effort in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they have returned home without the support available for troops in uniform.

Tens of thousands of civilians have worked in the two battle zones, delivering fuel, protecting diplomats and translating for troops, among other jobs.

More »

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