On June 6, 2018, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Division of Federal Employees’ Compensation (DFEC) issued FECA Bulletin No. 18-03 to clarify the requirements for coverage of psychiatric claims under the War Hazards Compensation Act (WHCA). The Bulletin makes clear that in order for a Carrier to obtain reimbursement of benefits paid under the Defense Base Act (DBA), it must produce evidence of “sufficient specificity of the employee’s potential exposure to a war-risk hazard such that it is reasonable to conclude that the employee was actually exposed to such war-risk hazard(s)”.
This standard is especially geared towards cumulative trauma claims in which the claimant might develop psychiatric injury from exposure to multiple war-risk hazards over a sustained overseas deployment. The new policy recognizes that war-risk hazards such as explosions or gunshots may be so prevalent in a warzone that it is not realistic for a claimant or employer to remember or document precise dates and times, especially years after the fact.
Instead DFEC will accept a claim for reimbursement under the WHCA if the Claimant attests to his or her exposure to a war-risk hazard in a general time frame and the Carrier is able to obtain independent verification of the war-risk hazard in that time frame. For instance, a claim in which the claimant develops PTSD from his exposure to mortar attacks on his base should be covered by the WHCA if the carrier can independently document that the base sustained mortar attacks during claimant’s deployment (despite his or her inability to remember a precise date or specific attack).
In recent years, DFEC’s requirements for the documentation of claims under the WHCA have been inconsistent, leading to arbitrary results. Because War Hazards claims cannot even be submitted to DFEC until the DBA claim is resolved, they often take years to adjudicate and if DFEC’s standards have changed in the interim, the WHCA claim might be jeopardized. This new policy should be especially helpful to industry stakeholders to ensure proper documentation of a War Hazards claim from the outset.