Wednesday, June 9, 2010

AIG accused of being slow to pay injured workers

WASHINGTON — Paul Jasmine, a dog trainer, was on his first mission hunting for explosives in southeastern Afghanistan when he stepped on an improvised bomb.
The blast hurled him 15 feet in the air, blew off his left foot, fractured his right leg and mortally wounded his bomb-sniffing dog, Chucky.

Permanently disabled at 36, Jasmine was transported home to Lake Charles, La., where he said he expects to receive enough workers' compensation benefits from a subsidiary of the American International Group to support him, his wife and their three children.

AIG's Insurance Company of the State of Pennsylvania, the workers' comp carrier for most employees of U.S. overseas contractors, has been sending him benefit checks amounting to $315 a week.

That's a small fraction of the $10,000 a month that Jasmine said he earned during three years in Iraq and of the $7,500-a-month contract that his employer, CAN-Am Protection Group, gave him for war zone duty in Afghanistan.

"I thought I'd be better taken care of, seeing that I was doing this for the country," Jasmine said.

AIG, the company through which more than $90 billion in federal money flowed out the back door to some of the same Wall Street banks whose risky behavior fueled the nation's financial crisis, is now being accused of short-changing its customers. Attorneys for hundreds of injured workers say AIG is dragging out insurance payments that their clients need to cover home mortgages, failing to pay full compensation benefits and refusing to pay medical bills.

Jasmine's Houston lawyers, Joel Mills and Gary Pitts, said that he's getting about a quarter of what he's due under workers' compensation laws because AIG wrongly based his benefits on his earnings in 2009, when he stayed home with his family and wasn't working.

Employees of civilian contractors working abroad are covered by the 83-year-old Longshore and Harbor Workers' Compensation Act and the 69-year-old Defense Base Act, laws that set a complex formula for determining compensation for disabled workers.

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