Tim Newman was a government contractor, training Iraqi police forces in Baghdad, when he lost his right leg in an explosion in 2005. The insurance provided to contractors through a private company covered a prosthetic, and he transitioned to working as an advocate to help other injured contractors get counseling and medical treatment. When he requested a more advanced prosthetic leg a few years later, his request was denied, and he found himself embroiled in a long-running battle. He sued the Department of Labor, his case taking a year to go through the federal court system, in order to get it.
Newman shared his story with ProPublica reporter T. Christian Miller, whose 2009 series “Disposable Army” revealed that contractors returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, suffering the same physical and mental scars as troops, often have to fight with insurers to get the care they need.
“My story was actually a ‘good’ story because my leg was taken care of,” said Newman. “But ProPublica was able to pull all the stories together so it didn’t sound like a small group of disgruntled cops wanting their piece of pie. This was a massive group of heroic Americans that went overseas to help fight a war, and they wanted what they deserved and what they were promised. The story was a driving force simply because we knew that we had a sympathetic ear that cared about us.”
The story drew attention to the issue, and at a congressional hearing two months later, lawmakers, including Rep. Elijah Cummings, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Dennis Kucinich, sharply criticized the federal program that relies on private insurance companies to provide medical care and benefits to civilian contractors. Injured workers, including Newman, testified about having to fight insurers for months and sometimes years to receive basic medical care.
By the end of that year, the Department of Labor launched a series of changes to improve the system. “People’s claims became more streamlined,” said Newman of the changes he saw in his community of injured contractors after new steps were implemented. “There were still some contentions on certain procedures, but it was easier to prevail when a claim was disputed. It did make the system better.”