When the first bomb went off, Terry Caulder shifted his body to reach for the door of the Humvee, moving to slam it shut. That might have saved his life when the second bomb exploded.
“When the second bomb went off,” Caulder said, “I was sitting at an angle, so it didn’t hit me full-blast.”
Caulder, now 44 and a former North Charleston police officer, was working as a private contractor for DynCorp in Iraq on the day — Dec. 27, 2004 — that his life changed forever.
The graduate of Stall High School was helping to train Iraqi police and provide security while employed by one of the many private companies that provided contractors during the war.
Caulder was just six months into his first tour when the Humvee he was riding in was hit near Forward Operating Base Warhorse in the Diyala province of Iraq.
Shrapnel from the improvised explosive device struck Caulder in the face, causing lacerations, a fractured nose and bleeding in his eye. Twenty-two surgeries and more than 12 years later, Caulder suffers from vision problems, including light sensitivity and cataracts. He also has an impaired sense of smell and mild traumatic brain injury as well as depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.
He takes four medications daily and has trouble concentrating for more than a few minutes at a time.
Those problems make it difficult, if not impossible, for Caulder to work or go back to school.
But like many other contractors who were injured during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, he finds himself fighting another battle against an insurance company for care and full disability.
“I get a partial disability because they tell me I’m supposed to be able to work,” he said. “But won’t anybody hire me, and my only skills are in police and security work. I tried to go to EMS school, but the pain medications make that impossible. I don’t know what they expect me to do.
“All I want is fairness.”
More than 3,200 civilian contractors have died and more than 83,000 have been injured while working in the war zones of Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Those contractors provided services such as security, delivering fuel, cooking meals and serving as translators.
As of 2012, more than 90,000 claims had been filed against Defense Base Act insurance companies. The Defense Base Act is supposed to provide medical treatment and compensation to employees of defense contractors.
The news organization ProPublica dubbed those contractors a “disposable army” in a series of stories on the problem.
While wounded soldiers receive care and other services through the military, private contractors must cope with an insurance system that can be difficult to navigate.
For example, Robert Biddle of Summerville is a former security specialist for Blackwater Worldwide. The former Marine was injured in Iraq in 2007 when he was hit by a rocket explosion that threw him 7 feet into the air. Biddle injured his right shoulder and suffered shrapnel wounds and numerous fractures, leaving him with traumatic brain injury, PTSD and depression.
Biddle is a plaintiff in a $2 billion class-action lawsuit against Blackwater and CNA Insurance, among others, alleging that the companies “deliberately withheld treatment from him” and “deliberately paid him less than is his legal right to disability.”
Biddle, who now works for the Dorchester County Sheriff’s Office, deferred comment to his attorney.
“These are people who were working alongside the military, and many of them were decorated military heroes,” said Washington attorney Scott J. Bloch, who is representing Biddle and others in the suit. “They were treated as part of the American enterprise over there, and were excited to be able to contribute, whether they were driving a truck or doing security or cooking meals.
“But once they were injured, they faced a mountain of obstacles put up by the contracting companies and the insurance companies, who were paid handsomely to take care of their disabilities and medical expenses.”
A spokesman for CNA Insurance said the company does not comment on ongoing litigation or claims. Tim Newman of Beaufort is a former sheriff’s deputy who worked for the same company that employed Caulder.
He was riding in an SUV in Baghdad in 2005 when an IED exploded, killing his best friend. Among other injuries, Newman’s right leg was blown off.
Newman, also a former Marine, fought with CNA Insurance for a year to get the type of prosthetic leg his doctors recommended.
Such stories are all too common, Bloch said.
“They end up facing a very hostile regimen of mistreatment ...,” the attorney said. “There’s a whole class of people whose lives were destroyed, who lost homes and property. And this stress and difficulty was visited not just on the contractors themselves, but their families as well.”
Caulder’s story of his fight with CNA Insurance is similar. He initially was diagnosed with PTSD, depression and a mild traumatic brain injury, and as permanently disabled and unable to work. But Caulder said the insurance company ignored those reports and arranged a second evaluation that determined he did not have a brain injury or PTSD, and instead had a “personality disorder” prior to going to Iraq.
“I am still unaware of how he came to that conclusion because he performed no test,” Caulder said of the second evaluation.
Caulder’s records with the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy contain no indications of prior job-performance issues during his 10 years in law enforcement in South Carolina. Caulder’s supervisor with the North Charleston Police Department said he could not comment on Caulder’s time there. Caulder worked there from 1997 to 2003, and said he resigned from the force in order to work in Iraq.
Biddle contends in his lawsuit that CNA Insurance falsified his weekly wage so it would have to pay him less in disability.
Caulder said he receives $4,188 a month and has never received a cost-of-living adjustment since the insurance company has determined he’s only partially disabled. And he said the insurance company made him wait 11 months for a hernia surgery in 2012. These days, Caulder, who is not a part of the class-action suit, spends almost all of his free time working on his case. “I don’t really have any hobbies,” he said. “This is what I do.”
Said Bloch, “I compare it to a prison sentence. For many, it’s the second injury and maybe the worst injury, to be put into this system.”
Like many contractors who worked in Iraq and Afghanistan, Caulder went to make money and to serve his country. He knew the risks involved but said he doesn’t think he’d do it again.
“I just want to see some sort of justice, and I’m tired of fighting with them,” he said. “I just want what’s right.”