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What is the Defense Base Act?

The Defense Base Act (“DBA”) is set forth in 42 U.S.C. §§ 1651-54. It adopts many of the laws and regulations applicable under the Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act, 33 U.S.C. §§ 901-50. Implementing regulations can be found at 20 C.F.R. Parts 701, 702, 703 and 704. The Act applies to individuals in the following capacities:  
  • Working for private employers on U.S. military bases or on any lands used by the U.S. for military purposes outside of the United States, including those in U.S. Territories and possessions;
  • Working on public work contracts with any U.S. government agency, including construction and service contracts in connection with national defense or with war activities outside the United States;
  • Working on contracts approved and funded by the U.S. under the Foreign Assistance Act, generally providing for cash sale of military equipment, materials, and services to its allies, if the contract is performed outside of the United States;
  • Working for American employers providing welfare or similar services outside of the United States for the benefit of the Armed Forces, e.g. the USO.
The law is, in essence, a federal workers’ compensation program, where worker benefits are provided by private employers and their insurance companies. The U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”) governs and administers the DBA. The law provides medical and wage loss benefits to those working for private military contractors working outside of the United States. Currently, many DBA claimants previously worked or are currently working in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, DBA claims can be filed in peacetime environments also.
State workers’ compensation laws generally do not apply to these injuries. Persons filing their cases with state workers’ compensation programs do so incorrectly. There is no joint or shared jurisdiction between state agencies or the courts.

Because the DBA is based upon a Federal Statute, it does not require your Employer to pay for pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life and other non-economic damages. Attorney’s fees must be approved by the Department of Labor. The Employer is responsible to pay your attorney’s fees if your attorney secured a benefit that was previously denied. You are not responsible for any direct out-of-pocket fees or costs, and all fees must be pre-approved by the DOL. 


DBA Form