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The Other Victims of Battlefield Stress - Part Two

T. Christian Miller | 6/15/2010, 11:22 a.m.

Defense Contractors' Mental Health Neglected

Part Two of Two

She plunged into depression, struggling to cope with her daughter's grief and the sense that she had failed her husband in his time of need. She sold the cars and nearly lost her home after falling behind on mortgage payments.

She suffered mostly by herself. Except for a handful of Web sites, no support groups exist for widows of civilian contractors. The federal government offers no counseling for civilians returning from work in war zones.

Dill said that she felt abandoned by everyone: her husband's employer, the insurance company and especially the federal government, which oversees the Defense Base Act system through the Labor Department.
"Shouldn't our government be responsible for the companies they hire?" Dill said. "Shouldn't our government take care of its own people, who are doing jobs our government, ultimately, wanted them to do?"

Survivors of civilian contractors whose death is related to their work in Iraq have the right to apply for compensation benefits that pay up to $63,000 a year for life.

Dill applied, asserting that her husband's PTSD made him an exception to the rule against payments in suicide cases. Her claim was denied by AIG, KBR's insurance provider.

She protested, sending her claim into a dispute resolution system run by the Labor Department. Her case is still grinding its way through the system, which can take years to produce a final result.

Experts hired by the family and the insurance company differed on what led to Wade Dill's suicide.

She said, "It leaves you with the most empty feeling. And there's no band aid, there's no drugs, there's no operation, there's nothing to make it better. They say time, but I'm waiting. And some days it was really rough."

A psychiatrist hired by her attorney found that job stress in Iraq was one of the factors that drove Wade to suicide: "The bottom line is that the combination of physical separation and work-related stress resulted in increasingly emotional distance, greater distortion of the relationship, increasing emotional intensity, and a pattern of increasing erratic behaviors that culminated in suicide," wrote Charles Seaman, an expert in PTSD.

A Labor Department examiner recommended that AIG pay the claim, but the company refused. AIG and KBR declined comment about the case. In court filings, AIG has argued that the Defense Base Act does not cover suicides.

AIG attorneys also have said that Wade Dill's actions were related to marital and family problems. A psychiatrist hired by AIG testified at a hearing in San Francisco in January that he had performed a "psychological autopsy" on Wade Dill based on interviews with his family and court documents.
The psychiatrist, Andrew D. Whyman, said his evaluation led him to conclude that Dill suffered from depression and that his suicide was unrelated to the violence he witnessed in Iraq.

"Take out the Iraq experience, (the suicide) would have happened," Whyman testified. "He had a choice. ... He could have chosen not to do that."
Barb Dill insists her husband came back from Iraq a changed man.

"No matter how strained our relationship could get at times, we always pulled out of it with no problem," Dill said. "Iraq changed all that."
Now, she said, she is trying to hold her life together. A final decision in her case is not expected for months.
"We're just slowly sinking," she said. "It's hard to be strong."

End of Part Two.
This story was also published in The Daily Beast.

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