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Home» News Coverage » Local Newspapers » Houston Press » Returning War Contractors Face Second Battle, Against AIG

Returning War Contractors Face Second Battle, Against AIG

By John Nova Lomax Wednesday, Nov 14 2012

Ever since that June day in 2010 when the roadside bomb detonated ten feet from the cab of his truck on a dusty road in Iraq, Terry Enzweiler has not been the same. He gets lost coming back from the same grocery store he’s shopped in hundreds of times; his daughter had to buy him a GPS to help him navigate his own neighborhood. He takes Xanax andZoloft to combat the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The Xanax stops me from jumping through the roof when a pencil falls on the floor,” he says.

Even medicated, his blood still curdles when he hears Arabic spoken on TV or drives through one of the Chicago area’s Muslim neighborhoods. He wore earplugs for much of the week leading up to and right through theFourth of July. “Those half-sticks sound just like a .50-cal,” he says, referring to a type of heavy machine gun.

The chuck-chuck of helicopter blades terrifies him, as does the sight of his own 25-year-old son. In Iraq, 46-year-old Enzweiler, a recent client of Houston attorney Gary Pitts, saw a dead Iraqi child who looked just like his boy did 13 years ago. “My psychiatrist said it’s like a marriage where there’s been infidelity,” he says in a phone interview. “The wife forgives the husband. Two years later, she sees a blond woman in a blue dress. Two years prior, the other woman looked like that. So in the mind, the two images come together, and for absolutely no reason, you become furious, and your subconscious takes over. It’s the same thing now. When I see my son, I think of that kid. I saw some horribly gruesome stuff over there.”

He says he has no patience. His temper is short. He suffers from diarrhea. His blood pressure is a mess most days. He suffers from heart palpitations, and sometimes his body drags his mind where he doesn’t want it to go. “I can just sit here at the computer feeling fine, and all of a sudden I will have palpitations, and I will remember why I have them.” Suddenly he will find himself awash in a torrent of bad memories. “It’s like, ‘Gosh, I wasn’t thinking those bad thoughts, and now I am on a downward spiral.'”

He’s downright agoraphobic a lot of the time. “I can’t stand leaving the house. I can’t stand dealing with people. My social skills are atrocious.”

He says his favorite thing to do is sit at the computer playing the soul-numbing Internet-based game Mafia Wars.

“I know it’s mindless, and the reason I like it is it allows me to escape,” Enzweiler says. “My psychiatrist tells me it isn’t a good thing. He says I will have to deal with it some day.”

Enzweiler is not a military veteran but a civilian contractor, a KBR truck driver, to be exact. Like all KBR contractors, he came to Houston for orientation at the defunct Montgomery Ward store in Greenspoint Mall and eventually did three tours in Iraq, starting in 2006. Decked out in fire suit, body armor and helmet, and flanked by armed trucks of the 101st Airborne, Enzweiler drove supply trucks “outside the wire,” braving IEDs, rocket-propelled grenades and tracer fire to bring frontline troops “beans and bullets.”

“I am very proud of the fact that I served those guys over there,” he says. “When they would reach for a container of .50-cal cartridges, it was brought there by me. When they ate their food, it was brought there by me.”

And then came June 9, 2010. He navigated a checkpoint, and then a huge explosion detonated ten feet to the right of his truck. Enzweiler was knocked unconscious, his truck’s tires shredded. He came to seconds later, just in time to bring the rig safely to a halt. He had to wait by his rig for two hours, his head pounding, his back aching. Days later he was shipped off to Dubai, where he was diagnosed with PTSD. A doctor also recommended a course of anti-­inflammatory drugs for his back, and he was sent home to Illinois. KBR let him go, and he eagerly awaited his hard-earned disability checks to start coming in from AIG subsidiary Chartis WorldSource.

Enzweiler’s war was over, but another one was about to begin.

“I don’t say this lightly, but I have never dealt with more dishonest, evil people than the people at AIG,” Enzweiler opines.

Along with law partner Joel Mills, Pitts has been battling the insurance behemoth AIG and its subsidiaries on behalf of civilian military contractors like Enzweiler for ten years. Pitts’s forte is the “Defense Base Act” field, and he has won more of those cases than anyone else. You imagine there might be a few dartboards at AIG HQ with his face affixed to them.

Reached on his lunch break at a Houston barbecue joint, Pitts laid out the typical process for such cases and the history of the Defense Base Act.

Enacted by Congress as America was arming for World War II in early 1941, the Defense Base Act mandates that defense contractors purchase workers’ compensation insurance for civilian workers in overseas war zones. “When Congress set this up in the World War II era, they must have known that the insurance companies were gonna be difficult to deal with,” Pitts says.

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