Soldiers of Misfortune 

Critical elements of the war in Iraq have been outsourced to private contractors. John Mancini's story shows the many perils of that approach.

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Just a few weeks into his latest stint, Mancini was nursing a new set of grievances. He believed CACI had stiffed him on his paycheck, and the mortar rounds landing around the Green Zone were starting to wear down his nerves. In July, he was headhunted by Procurement Services Associates to work as a purchasing manager on behalf of Perini, the company rebuilding the electricity grid. But on September 23, while he was driving back to Perini's office, a car carrying a Kuwaiti woman and six children slammed into the back of his Land Rover at 75 miles an hour. The Kuwaiti car rolled three times, and Mancini was knocked unconscious. When he woke up, he found himself at a hospital reserved for "third-country nationals" — menial laborers imported to do shitwork. He had a broken ankle, a broken wrist, and contusions to his ribs.

While Mancini cooled his heels in what he calls "the cockroach hospital," he talked on the phone to Travis Williams, president of the temp agency contracting his services to Perini. According to Mancini, Williams claimed that Mancini had no medical coverage, despite the fact that federal law requires companies working with the military to guarantee health insurance. "He goes, 'Ah, you're injured. You didn't sign up for the medical care. What are you gonna do?'" Mancini said. "I go, 'This was employment-related, this is covered under workman's comp. What are you gonna do?' And then there was complete silence. And then he said he'd check into it." Williams declined to comment on Mancini's claims.

Perini officials transferred Mancini to a private hospital, but after just a few days, a company representative came to his bed. "Perini said, 'We gotta get you out now. When the doctor comes in, say I feel good enough to travel,'" Mancini claims. "I say, 'Well, I don't.' He repeats, 'Tell the doctor you feel good enough to travel, and we're going to get you on a flight tonight. Otherwise, they're going to put you in prison.'" The implication, Mancini thought, was clear: Kuwaiti nationals had died in the car wreck, and the government was looking for a scapegoat. Perini employees raced to his apartment and threw some of his underwear and socks in a gym bag. Another official shoved Mancini in a wheelchair, flashed a few bills at the hospital staff, got a doctor's note, and pushed him through the exit into an unmarked car. "They said, 'We can't put you in an ambulance, because we don't want to attract attention,'" he recalls. "A couple of Perini people said, 'Be careful — they may arrest you.'"

With that, Mancini was on a flight back to the States. At Logan International Airport, he claims, he took a call from Williams, who said he'd meet Mancini in Phoenix. In the meantime, there was a snafu in the arrangements, and no one from the company could accompany him. Mancini was left in the airport in a wheelchair, where he used his remaining cash to pay people to help him on the plane. PSA paid only for economy class, Mancini said, and his injured leg was jammed down into the cramped seats. When he arrived in Phoenix many hours later, Williams was nowhere to be found. Instead, his ex-wife, Susan, was waiting; Williams had asked her to handle things from then on.

Susan Mancini, who has worked as a surgical technologist for 25 years, took one look at her ex-husband's leg and took him to the hospital. Mancini's legs were badly swollen from being crammed into a tight space without being elevated; the flesh strained against the casts. "His feet were cold, like there was no circulation," she said. "I took him to the emergency room, and they had to cut both casts off. I was fairly worried. ... He could get blood clots on his legs; he could have gotten gangrene."

Mancini spent a month in a nursing home, where he was informed that PSA did not have health insurance under the federal Defense Base Act, which is supposed to cover all civilians working overseas for the military. After working in the deadliest piece of real estate on Earth on behalf of his country, Mancini was left high and dry. He checked out of the nursing home, but filed a claim against PSA with the Department of Labor. After months of arbitration, the company acknowledged that federal law required it to purchase Defense Base Act insurance for its employees, and agreed to pay all Mancini's medical bills from the time of his accident to March 1, 2005.

Mancini is still fighting with Procurement Services Associates. He claims that he still can't work, and that his former employer is liable for compensation for as long as his injuries endure. His ex-wife said he has yet to recover from his time in Iraq and Kuwait. "He's been feeling pretty depressed because he can't work," she said. "His feet are still swollen to, like, twice their normal size, and he has difficulty walking. He can barely even buy shoes. They're like squares." In a brief filed with the Department of Labor last month, PSA's attorney David Nolan claims that Mancini's own physician found him "fit to return to work ... in early April 2005," and that the company is not liable for any further payments. Any claims otherwise, Nolan wrote, are "the fantasies of the very troubled Mr. Mancini."

In August, Mancini was sitting at home seething when, he claims, he heard from one of the reporters he talked to during the Halliburton days. "Do you remember how we talked about the story on injured contractors?" T. Christian Miller of the Los Angeles Times asked in an e-mail forwarded by Mancini. "Well, you can be of help to me now in getting it done." The Times, Miller wrote, had filed a lawsuit to acquire details of civilian contractors killed or injured in the war, and whether the federal government was adequately compensating them: "Would you be willing to contact our attorney, and give a short declaration about your case?"

On August 28, Mancini signed a declaration summarizing his fight with PSA. Miller referred all questions to the newspaper's public-relations department, which refused to comment. But Karen Henry, an attorney with the firm handling the lawsuit, confirmed that Mancini was cooperating with the investigation. "We want to get specific information regarding civilian contractors who have been either killed or injured while in Iraq and Afghanistan," she said.

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