There are many risks to being a US contractor working on military bases around the world. Regardless of being in a zone of danger, such as a war-torn region or country, many jobs that you might work as a contractor come with risk to personal safety. One such risk is that to your ability to hear (hearing loss) caused by work with or near heavy equipment, explosives, and military operations. Yet, hearing loss is not the first health risk many contractors consider when beginning work overseas. When it comes to your benefits, you should be aware that any hearing loss associated with your line of work is covered under the Defense Base Act (DBA).
As an overseas US contractor working with the military, you are likely covered by the Defense Base Act. This Act gives you the same workers’ compensation benefits as other employees working at home. These benefits are part of the Longshore and Harbor Workers Compensation Act (LHWCA), which gives you the right to receive prompt medical treatment and a portion of your lost wages, including disability, while recovering from an injury. As part of your Defense Base Act benefits, you can receive medical care for hearing loss, such as hearing aids and periodic exams, as well as disability or compensation benefits for your percentage of hearing loss.
Occupational Hearing Loss as a Work Injury
As a civilian contractor working for the US Government overseas, you’ve probably been or will be exposed to loud noises that can or may have damaged your hearing. Noises over 80 decibels can damage the inner ear, even at significant distances. For example, if you’re within 100 feet of a jet engine, you’re exposed to 130 dB, which is extremely damaging to the inner ear.
Even with proper ear protection, you still run the risk of hearing loss, especially if exposed to loud/toxic noise on a daily basis over a long period of time. The United States has regulations in place to protect workers from loud noises that will damage their hearing. These regulations determine the maximum noise level under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA). However, OSHA does not extend overseas in many circumstances, which leaves many US contractors at risk for damaged hearing. Other such situations aside from aircraft engines include being near loud vehicles, large machinery (like jackhammers), and explosions from rockets, grenades, missiles and mortars. You’re at a particularly high risk should you be working in an active military zone where they frequently conduct operations.
You may lose your hearing as part of a traumatic injury, such as if there’s an explosion. However, most hearing loss is caused by regular exposure to loud or toxic noises over time. In fact, it could be quite subtle and worsen over time. You might not even realize you have hearing loss or are losing your hearing. Oftentimes, it’s ignored until it becomes life-altering. Serious hearing loss can result in the inability to perform your job and many other jobs, affecting your income. It can also affect personal relationships and make everyday tasks difficult. As someone who has given your service to the US Government, you deserve and are entitled to assistance for this workplace injury.
Hearing Loss Benefits
Hearing loss is characterized as muffled words and noise; not being able to hear anything more than three feet away from you; feeling pressure in the ears; and hearing ringing in the ears. Tinnitus, which is the primary diagnosis associated with work-related hearing loss, is the constant presence of “ringing” or “buzzing” in the ears. Tinnitus makes it difficult to both hear and concentrate.
Under the DBA, there are only two types of hearing loss covered: monaural and binaural. Monaural is the loss of hearing in one ear, whereas binaural is the loss of hearing in both ears.
The Defense Base Act considers both forms of hearing loss as a result of your job to be a traumatic injury and not an occupational disease. This is a significant classification, as an occupational disease is something that occurs over time, often increasing in severity, and is thus not discovered immediately. Even though hearing loss often happens over time and may be difficult to detect, because of this classification, you must be more aware of your hearing health. The sooner you’re able to receive a diagnosis and associate your hearing loss with your work as a US contractor, the more likely you are to qualify for DBA benefits.
Under the DBA, you’ll be able to receive the following benefits for your hearing loss diagnosis should your claim be approved:
-Medical treatment, such as surgery, hearing aids, cochlear implants at no cost to you;
-Occupational therapy should it be medically required for your recovery;
-Wages loss during recovery, if the hearing loss is disabling;
-Permanent partial disability benefits (compensation) should your hearing be officially diagnosed following an audiogram and examination by a medical doctor.
The wages or compensation that you could be entitled to is calculated according to the type of hearing loss you’ve sustained and the percentage of impairment. Your physician will first determine how impaired you are, which is called the impairment rating percentage. This is done by administering audiometric testing. Based on the results, any hearing loss will first be characterized as “monaural” or “binaural.
If the injury is “monaural”, meaning the hearing loss is limited to one ear, the percentage of monaural hearing loss is multiplied by 52 weeks and then multiplied by the compensation rate to determine the amount of compensation you are entitled to receive.
If the injury is “Binaural”, meaning you have hearing loss in both ears, the percentage of hearing loss is multiplied by 200 weeks and then multiplied again by the compensation rate.
Filing Hearing Loss Defense Base Act Claims
Filing a Defense Base Act claim for your hearing loss is the same as filing a claim for any workplace injury under the LHWCA-DBA. The first step is to ensure that your employer has coverage and that you’re indeed covered under the DBA. Most US overseas contractors and their employers are covered, as it is required for companies to carry DBA insurance for their civilian contractors.
You’ll then need to file a claim as soon as possible after becoming aware of your hearing loss and seeking medical attention for it. The evidence of your hearing loss must be an audiogram administered by a licensed or certified audiologist, as stated under Section 8(c) of the Longshore Act. The time period for filing your claim does not begin until you are given the official audiogram and a report indicating you have hearing loss and it was caused by exposure to noise at work in the war zone. You must file your claim with the U.S. Department of Labor, Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs.
It’s essential to keep all your records and file your claim within the applicable in order to qualify for medical and compensation benefits under the DBA. Otherwise, insurance companies may deny your claim or give you less money than what you deserve.
To receive the most of what you’ve earned working as a US contractor, it’s recommended to contact a lawyer that specializes in maritime law and the Defense Base Act. At Moschetta Law, our DBA lawyers are experienced and knowledgeable in prosecuting Defense Base Act claims and can help you obtain your due benefits. Contact us today.