defense base act

Defense Base Act – Injury Coverage for Contractors

If you deployed overseas while serving in the military, you were provided with medical care and benefits in the event of an injury. But what about when you deploy as a contractor? Unlike their active-duty military counterparts, military contractors cannot obtain a disability rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs for injuries that were sustained as a contractor.

Most US Government contractor and subcontractors do not provide regular medical insurance or employer-funded benefits. Instead, in the event of an injury, you are covered by the Defense Base Act. 

The Defense Base Act (DBA) is a topic we all discuss as contractors, but very few of us accurately understand what injuries can actually be claimed under the DBA. 

To be fair, most of the information available online regarding the DBA is too generalized to help you figure out if you can file a claim. To make matters worse, we all know someone who’s tried to file a DBA claim for a severe injury with horror stories about the process. On the other hand, we also all know someone who’s filed a DBA claim for a minor injury and received a $500,000 settlement.  The stark difference in results depends on how the contractor is filing his or her DBA claim.

So, to provide you with everything you need to know on this important topic, we spoke with the best Defense Base Act attorney to help us answer the following questions in straightforward language: 1) Who is covered under the DBA? 2) What is covered under the DBA?  3) What are average DBA claim settlement amounts?  4) When and how to file a DBA claim?And, 5) How long does the DBA claim process take?

What is the Defense Base Act?

First, it’s important to understand  – What is the Defense Base Act

The Defense Base Act is what the US Government relies upon to provide contractors with treatment and compensation should they be injured or killed while overseas.

The Defense Base Act (DBA) was enacted back in 1941 as a legislative extension of the Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. Essentially, the DBA is a federal workers’ compensation program but for civilian federal contractors working on or supporting US Government bases overseas.  The DBA requires that any company acting as a US Government contractor or subcontractor must provide some form of workers’ compensation program for their employees or contractors who work overseas. 

Nonetheless, contractors serve a vital role in protecting America’s interests. For this reason, Congress passed the Defense Base Act, which provides a way for contractors to receive compensation for their injuries—including past and future medical care and loss of earnings.

Who is Covered Under the Defense Base Act?

If you’ve been on a US Government contract, you’ll find that in your contract you have something called Defense Base Act insurance.  That means you’re covered under the DBA in the event of any injury you sustain while on contract until you arrive back home in the United States or your country of origin. 

DBA claims can be filed by almost ANY government contractor, regardless of whether they are a U.S. citizen or a foreign national. Most frequently such claims are filed by private security contractors who are injured on military bases used by the United States. 

This includes, but is not limited to:

  1. Personal Security Specialists (PSS/PSD)
  2. Base and Tower Security (Static Guards)
  3. Canine Handlers
  4. Military and Police Trainers
  5. Pilots
  6. Linguists / Interpreters
  7. Cultural Advisors
  8. Medical Staff
  9. Heavy Equipment Operators
  10. Truck Drivers
  11. Heavy Equipment Operators
  12. Construction Engineers
  13. Vehicle Mechanics
  14. Welders & Electricians
  15. Food Service Workers
  16. Laundry Service Workers
  17. Sanitation & Janitorial Workers

There are other contractors who qualify for this coverage as well. These include people who are working on any contracts approved by the US Government. 

It’s these civilian contractors that are protected and covered by the Defense Base Act (specifically through DBA insurance). But, there are many other circumstances when the Defense Base Act would apply.  As long as you have a legitimate claim and are employed by a US Government contractor or a subcontractor, you are covered by the Defense Base Act.

What does DBA insurance cover?

The short answer is: almost EVERYTHING.

Forget all of the stories you may have heard from your fellow contractors.  Most contractors don’t actually have an accurate understanding of the DBA which is why so few actually file claims. 

The Defense Base Act is surprisingly broad for what it covers and, if you’ve been a contractor working for the US Government, you very likely have at least one valid DBA claim (especially if you worked in CENTCOM or a designated combat zone). 

In general, there are two categories of injuries and each are covered and compensated differently.


“Specific injuries” are defined by the DBA as:

  1. Injuries that are caused by a specific event; and/or,
  2. Injuries to the extremities / appendages (i.e. arms, legs, etc.)

Examples of specific injuries include a traumatic brain injury (TBI) due to a VBIED explosion or an ACL tear while deployed as a contractor.  Both are covered under the DBA; however, because there is a time-specific event that caused the injury, there is a time limit for when you can file a DBA claim.

– Amputations
Broken bones
– Burns
– Electrocution
– Gunshot, shrapnel or penetration wounds
– Heart attack or blood clots
– Spinal cord injuries
– Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) from a specific event

Specific injuries must be filed within one (1) year of the event that caused the injury or else the claim will not be considered valid. Additionally, the process to file a DBA claim for a specific injury requires documentation of the actual event that caused the injury.  We’ll provide details on the documentation process further down in this article.


“General injuries” are defined under the DBA as:

  1. Injuries that are NOT associated with a specific event; and/or,
  2. Injuries to the head, shoulder, neck, torso, or hips

Examples of general injuries include injuries like post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or lower back pain from years of wearing and carrying heavy equipment (i.e. cumulative long-term trauma).  Such injuries are also covered under the DBA; however, because there is no one specific event that caused these injuries, the date of injury is considered to be the day you departed out of theatre (wheels-up date).

– Hearing problems
– Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or other psychological injuries
– Asthma or other forms of developed breathing problems
– General injuries in the head, shoulder, neck, torso, or hip regions
– Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
– Lead poisoning
– Cancer or other disease
– Chemical exposure injuries

Because many general injuries manifest themselves much later on down the road, the deadline to file a DBA claim for a general injury is generally within 1-2 years of being diagnosed with an injury that is tied to your work as a contractor. 

DBA Settlement Amounts

The big question on every injured contractor’s mind is – What kind of settlement can I expect on a DBA claim? 

Well first, it’s important to understand that there are two ways a DBA claim settlement gets paid to a contractor. 

1. DBA Settlements for Specific Injuries

First, let’s talk about specific injuries.  Specific injuries are rated injuries and are paid out on a schedule.  Monetary compensation often falls under one of the following options:

  1. Anyone suffering total disability due to a specific injury (such as an amputation) may receive monetary compensation that is the equivalent of two-thirds of their weekly wage for life, with a maximum cap determined by the federal Workers’ Compensation schedule.
  2. Anyone suffering partial disability may receive an adjusted compensation according to the severity rating of their injury. 
  3. If a contractor dies overseas, then the contractor’s spouse or one child may receive half of the deceased contractor’s weekly wage for life. If the contractor had two or more surviving family members, then those members may receive two-thirds of their weekly wage for life.
  4. Injured contractors may also be granted medical coverage for a specific injury from a physician of their choice for the rest of their lives.

2. DBA Settlements for General Injuries

Next, let’s talk about general injuries.  Settlement amounts for general injuries are calculated in a similar fashion as specific injuries; however, general injuries are paid out as a lump sum instead of on a schedule. 

The settlement calculation is a bit complex but, essentially, it depends on the rating / severity of the injury (rated by a physician), your weekly compensation rate when you were on contract, the total number of months you were on contract, your wheels-up date out of country on your last contract, and your current age. 

But to give you a general idea, the table below illustrates an average range of settlements for general injury DBA claims as well as the average amount of time it takes to settle each respective type of claim. 

Hearing Loss / Tinnitus $50,000 – $100,000 3-6 months
PTSD $100,000 – $500,000 18-24 months
Other General Injuries $100,000 – $500,000 18-36 months

[NOTE: These figures were provided to us by a DBA attorney as an average range of settlements across a sample of actual DBA claims.  There is no guarantee that any particular claim will fall within these ranges.  Every situation varies and should be evaluated independently.]

If you were an overseas contractor on a US Government contract, chances are pretty high that you have one or more valid DBA claims. 

How to File a DBA Claim

Most DBA claims are filed as a result of a specific injury, which means your injury was caused on by an event on a specific date. In order to file a DBA claim for a specific injury, follow these steps:

  1. Report the injury to your supervisor. Do this in writing on a LS-201 form (Notice of Employee’s Injury or Death). Filling out this report is important because the DBA requires employers to take certain actions in a strict time frame after a reported injury.
  2. Get immediate medical care for your injuries. Whether you see your team medic or a physician, make sure you obtain further documentation on your injury by a medical professional.  All team medics know how to document injuries for DBA claims.
  3. Save all copies of accident and medical reports. This includes any reports for any ongoing medical treatment for your injuries. All these documents provide timeline evidence for the DBA claim with respect to the injury.
  4. File your DBA claim with the US Department of Labor. Claims under the Defense Base Act fall under the Department of Labor (DOL). You have one (1) year from the time of injury to file your claim. If you do not meet this deadline, then your claim may become invalid – particularly the lost wage portion of your DBA claim.  However, you may still qualify for the future medical expense portion of the injury claim. It depends case-to-case.

On the other hand, if you wish to file a DBA claim for a general injury, your statutes of limitations (i.e. eligible timeline to file a claim) don’t start running until you have a medical exam for that injury at your “maximum improved state” that ties the injury to your work as a contractor. 

So, for example, if your last overseas contract ended 9 years ago, but you haven’t had an audiology exam since then that specifically ties your hearing loss to your work as a contractor, then you would still potentially be eligible to file a DBA claim for hearing loss.

The claims filing process is a bit complicated – especially in a general injury claim – and we highly recommend hiring a good Defense Base Act lawyer to assist you.

Hire a Defense Base Act Lawyer

Nothing requires you to hire an attorney – but it makes no sense not to.  That’s because DBA lawyers bill their time and fees to the Defense Base Act insurance company to represent you.  

That means, regardless of whether or not a DBA claim is successful, there are no out-of-pocket attorneys fees or any attorney contingency fees.  In fact, DBA lawyers are prohibited by law to charge contingency fees on your settlement.  Your claim settlement is 100% entirely yours and is paid directly to you through the insurance company.

And, if you’re not an attorney, you’ll likely fail to efficiently navigate the Department of Labor filing process which may make your claim invalid – or it will drag out your claims process far longer than it would for a DBA lawyer.

That said, there are a lot of employment attorneys who say that they handle DBA claims.  In actuality, the majority of these attorneys handle a very small number of DBA claims as a peripheral add-on to their main law practice.  That means that their knowledge on the DBA is very limited and they end up spending very little time and attention on your case. This is also the reason why there are so many nightmare stories out there regarding contractor DBA claims.

If you still need help or aren’t sure whether or not you have a valid DBA claim, we recommend the Cobos Law Firm based out of Houston, Texas.  They are qualified to handle cases across the entire US and around the globe.  Additionally, their website offers a completely online DBA claims evaluation process, making it easy to determine whether or not you have any eligible claims before talking to an attorney.