The Defense Base Act
Maritime Law Overview
Seaman's Information Regarding Maritime Injury
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What is the WHCA?
The War Hazards Compensation Act (WHCA) supplements the Defense Base Act (DBA) by providing a form of reinsurance for contractor injuries and deaths which are directly related to military conflict. If an employee's injury or death is caused by a war hazard, the workers' compensation benefits are provided not by the insurer or employer but by the federal government. Under the provisions of the WHCA, an injury or death is considered to have been caused by a war hazard if it occurred during:
1. A war in which the United States is engaged
2. An armed conflict in which the United States is engaged, whether or not war has been formally declared
3. A war or armed conflict between military forces of any origin in a country in which a covered employee is working and the injury or death was caused by:
- The discharge of any weapon by a hostile force or in combating an attack
- The action of a hostile force or person, including an insurrection or rebellion against the United States
- The discharge of any munitions intended for use against a hostile force
- The collision of vessels in convoy
- The operation of vessels or aircraft without running lights or other aids to navigation
- The operation of vessels or aircraft in a hostile zone or engaged in war activities.
Terrorist attacks are not specifically addressed by statute. Determining coverage under the WHCA for such attacks may be complicated, as it is not always possible to identify the person or group responsible for a terrorist act, or to determine the intended target of the action. Coverage may be extended to some victims of terrorist acts. Each case must be considered on an individual basis in conjunction with the definitions of "war-risk hazard" and "hostile force or individual."
Who is covered?
For the purposes of the WHCA, a covered employee includes:
- Any person covered under the Defense Base Act
- Any person working outside of the United States under a personal services contract with the federal government
- Any person working as a civilian employee paid by nonappropriated funds under the jurisdiction of the Department of Defense, such as an employee of a military post exchange or officer's club.
Employees who reside at or near the place of employment and do not live there solely by virtue of the exigencies of the employment will be covered only while in the performance of duty.
The following individuals are not covered:
- Prisoners of war detained or utilized by the United States
- Recipients of workers' compensation benefits from any other source
- Foreign nationals entitled to benefits from another country
- Those convicted of a subversive act against the United States
How is a claim made?
There are three types of claims available under the WHCA:
- Reimbursement claim (WHCA Section 104) - An insurance carrier or self-insured employer will first pay DBA benefits to an injured worker or his or her survivors and then seek reimbursement from the Department of Labor under the WHCA. Insurers and employers may be reimbursed for benefits paid and itemized and non-itemized administrative costs associated with the claim. Non-itemized administrative costs are capped by regulation at 15% of the total value of the benefits due on a claim. A claim is not reimbursed under the WHCA if the insurance carrier charged an additional premium, referred to as premium loading, to cover the specific war hazard that caused the injury or death.
- Direct benefit claim (WHCA Section 101) - Filed when an injury or death is due to a war-risk hazard not compensable under the Defense Base Act.
- Detention benefit claim (WHCA Section 101) - Filed when the employee is detained by a hostile force or person.
Employees or survivors should file Section 101 claims directly with the Division of Federal Employees' Compensation only after a Longshore District Director has determined that no compensation is payable under the Defense Base Act. The claims examiner will develop the factual and medical evidence as necessary, and recommend acceptance or denial of the claim. Section 101 claims receive the same appeal rights as regular FECA cases. The time limit for filing a claim is generally three years.