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Department of Labor preparing for Defense Base Act to be replaced by new system April 11, 2013

Posted by Aaron Walter in Uncategorized.
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Buried deep within the Department of Labor’s 2014 Budget request lies the first information publicly available on the proposed “reforms” to the Defense Base Act.

The document indicates that the DOL has requested $2 million to implement the new system called the Overseas Contractors Compensation Act (OCCA). This is the first we have heard of this name and it is a piece of legislation that apparently be proposed in the near future.

It is described as a “DOL-administered” program where injured claimant’s would be paid from a collective fund. The thought is obviously to streamline the program and make it cheaper to administer.

Under the current set up, Defense Base Act claimants are entitled to benefits under the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act. It appears this proposal will pull Defense Base Act claims away from the Longshore Act and into a new set of rules and procedures.

This could be a great thing for claimants. Perhaps the new system will more thoroughly compensate claimant’s for their injuries. However, there are reasons to be concerned. First, the Longshore Act has many claimant friendly elements that could be thrown away in this new legislation. Under the Longshore Act claimants have these advantages:

– an initial legal presumption that their injury entitles them to treatment and compensation that must be rebutted by the defense
– the right to an attorney who is paid by the insurance company if they win benefits
– the right to a trial before an impartial judge who does not work for either side
– the ability to settle then claim with the insurer to “move on” with their lives

The Defense Base Act adds one huge advantage as well:
– Cases covered by the Defense Base Act involve injuries in the “Zone of Special Danger.” This is a legal concept that them simplified says strange things happen in strange places and helps claimants prove “unusual” injuries like PTSD, diseases like Hepititis, and injuries or deaths that would not have happened but for the remoteness of a work location (like the middle of a desert).

If the new laws throw out these advantages then the DOL will be doing thousands of claimant’s a disservice, just to streamline the system and make it cost less. Two examples of streamlined systems where a government agency decides whether you get benefits or not are the Federal Employees Compensation Act (FECA) and Social Security Disability (SSD). Talk to someone who has filed for SSD benefits and see whether they tell you that system was a fair “streamlined” experience.

We will be keeping our eyes and ears peeled for more on the OCCA as details become public.