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The Journal of Workers Compensation

employees working under federally funded contracts are protected by an important variation on the workers compensation theme: Defense Base Act (DBA) insurance. As an increasing number of services required by U.S. government facilities abroad are outsourced to private corporations (including in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other locations representing vital U.S. interests), the importance of DBA insurance is certain to grow. This article will briefly review some of the history, underlying principles, and claims issues associated with DBA insurance as well as take a look ahead to the future of this important line of business.

Born in ConfliCt

In 1941, the Second World War was already well underway, with Great Britain standing alone against the Axis powers for almost two years. With war clouds on the horizon, President Franklin Roosevelt and a majority of U.S. Congressional members recognized that it was just a matter of time before the United States would become engaged in the conflict. With this in mind, Congress passed the Defense Base Act (DBA) in August 1941, at the request of then Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. The Act recognized that civilian employees working on U.S. military bases and other installations overseas — some of which were likely to be situated in war zones in the not-too-distant future — needed workers compensation beyond the scope of typical coverages provided at home. The DBA required U.S. companies to secure without exception workers compensation coverage for their civilian employees performing services on U.S. military bases and other overseas projects, no matter where those bases or projects might be located.

The DBA effectively extended the provisions of the United States Longshore and Harbor Workers (USL&H) Act passed by Congress in 1927. Private firms with employees abroad who were either U.S. citizens or foreign nationals working on U.S. government contracts would be re- quired by those contracts to provide DBA insurance coverage. The U.S. Department of Labor was empowered to: 1) authorize private insurers to underwrite DBA insurance; and 2) maintain oversight of the administra- tion of DBA’s provisions on an ongoing basis.

Like traditional workers compensation insurance, DBA coverage provides benefits for deaths or injuries arising from or out of the course of employ- ment. Benefit levels under DBA are typically higher than those provided by traditional workers compensation insurance. Eligibility criteria for DBA coverage include:

  • work for private employers on U.S. military bases or on any lands


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