Saturday, February 24, 2007

Support our private contractors

By Nancy Jane Moore

Juan Cole included a bit of information I didn't know today on Informed Comment: 800 civilian contractors performing military-related jobs in Iraq have been killed and more than 3,300 have been injured.

The news comes from an AP report (published in Time online among other places) that also points out the U.S. has almost as many contractors as soldiers in Iraq -- 120,000 contractors and 135,000 soldiers. (Our government seems to be outsourcing everything.) Noting that insurgents make no distinction between contractors and soldiers when attacking U.S. personnel, the AP went out to say:
But when contractors are killed or wounded, the casualties are off the books, in a sense. While the Defense Department issues a press release whenever a soldier or Marine dies, the AP had to file a Freedom of Information Act request to obtain figures on pre-2006 civilian deaths and injuries from the Labor Department, which tracks workers' compensation claims.
If the contractor deaths and injuries are included in the statistics from Iraq, it increases the overall casualty rate by about 25 percent.

Of course, the contractors are paid much better than soldiers for putting their lives on the line: The AP says they can make $100,000 a year, most of it tax free. (Somebody please explain to me exactly how it saves taxpayers' money to contract out military services to private companies who pay their workers six times what soldiers are paid -- especially when one assumes the private firms are also earning a tidy profit.)

The AP doesn't say if the private companies also provide high level workers' compensation and disability coverage for their workers -- even with high pay that's not a given -- but I wouldn't be surprised to find that contractors who've suffered traumatic brain injuries and multiple amputations are getting better care than the wounded soldiers being treated at Walter Reed.

Speaking of Walter Reed, I heard Defense Secretary Robert Gates on the radio this morning sounding like Captain Renault from the movie Casablanca: He was "shocked, shocked" to find that wounded soldiers were being treated so badly.

I find it hard to believe that problems of this magnitude -- particularly the difficulties in getting decent disability ratings -- were so well covered up that the only way higher ups in the Pentagon found out about them was by reading The Washington Post. In the first place, The Post isn't even the first publication to cover the way wounded soldiers are being treated -- Mark Benjamin on reported specifically on the problems of those with brain injuries more than a year ago.

And I doubt that these problems were any big secret among staff at Walter Reed. In fact, I suspect there were dedicated workers who tried to do their best by the wounded and to report problems -- and I also suspect no one paid any attention to them.

It's a shame that embarrassing coverage in The Washington Post is about the only thing that makes some people do their jobs properly.

1 comment:

eugene plawiuk said...

I would be surprised if the average worker contracted by these guys is actually getting good medical attention. that is the cooks, support staff folks etc. One of the reasons that the state approved contracting out and outsourcing even making its own workers contract workers is to pay them a lump sum wage and force them to pay for their own healthcare, benefits, pensions, etc.

In Canada it was one of cost savings that was promoted when our provincial and Federal governments contracted out jobs. They rehired the same workers as contract workers, and despite higher wage costs the savings made were in benefits, pensions, etc.

By the way in the U.S. this process began under Clinton with the Reinventing Government plans executed by none other than Al Gore.