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Wounded In Wars, Civilians Face Care Battle At Home

T. Christian Miller doesn't shy away from trouble. He has reported on conflicts in Kosovo, Israel and Iraq, among others, and the Web site he founded, ProPublica, is dedicated to covering stories with "moral force" — providing in-depth coverage of environmental, defense, and human rights issues. One story Miller has been following closely, in a series of articles titled "Disposable Army," is the fate of employees who worked for private military contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of them went abroad without insurance, were wounded — some seriously — and are now fighting to get medical treatment. Miller, who wrote the book Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq, joins Fresh Air for a conversation about the battles these civilians face to get surgery, psychological counseling and even prosthetics — and explains the ins and outs of the laws and policies governing who's responsible for their predicament.

43:05

Other segments from the episode on January 11, 2010

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, January 11, 2010: Interview with T. Christian Miller; Review of Mary J.Blige's music album "Stronger with each tear."

Transcript

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Wounded In Wars, Civilians Face Care Battle At Home

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the American military has relied on private
contractors more than any wars in the past. There have been many investigations
into these companies, but behind these corporate facades, says my guest, T.
Christian Miller, are civilian employees on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan
who are being shot at and blown up in the course of work.

Miller wanted to know what happens to these civilian contractors after they've
been injured, without access to the medical system military veterans are
provided. For example, Miller found one civilian contractor who lost his leg in
Baghdad, had to fight his insurance company for a year to get a good prosthetic
leg, and then this man said: It's almost like we're this invisible, discardable
military.

T. Christian Miller has titled his investigative series, "Disposable Army:
Civilian Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan." Miller is an investigative
reporter for ProPublica and before that was with the L.A. Times. His series has
been published on ProPublica's Web site with articles also appearing in the
L.A. Times and Salon. Miller also wrote a book about private military
contractors called "Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate
Greed in Iraq."

T. Christian Miller, welcome back to FRESH AIR. You know, you write that some
civilian contractors and their families have been reluctant to speak out about
the health insurance coverage problems they've been having because they're
afraid of being labeled as mercenaries or war profiteers, and I think they have
a case there, that they might be labeled that. Do you agree, that a lot of
people just think of these people as mercenaries and don't care - don't think
much beyond that?

Mr. T. CHRISTIAN MILLER (Author, "Disposable Army: Civilian Contractors in Iraq
and Afghanistan," "Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed
in Iraq"): Yes, I think you're absolutely right. I think a lot of people, to
the degree they think about contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan at all. I think
the first images, the first ideas that come to mind, are the Blackwater
incidents, the violence, some of the waste and fraud and abuse.

And what I really wanted to do with this story is I wanted to put a space
between the employees who are working for these companies and the corporations
themselves, and I want to kind of draw a distinction between those two issues.

Yes, some of these contractors carry weapons. Some of them have been involved
in incidents where they have killed Iraqis and Afghan civilians, but really the
bulk of employees in Iraq and Afghanistan, right now, are kind of ordinary,
everyday folks who are doing things like delivering mail and cleaning laundry,
picking up trash and serving meals.

These are guys who are over there, they've been hired to do a job, they're
supporting the soldiers. So what do we owe them? What do we owe this set of
people who has been hired and outsourced by the U.S. government to support the
American war effort?

And I just wanted to kind of explore that whole area of the side of the
contracting and the contract workers you don't hear about. We hear a lot about
the 30,000-or-so armed security contractors. You don't hear a lot about the
170,000 other people who are just doing ordinary, everyday jobs.

GROSS: Has writing this series given you any insights to why Americans become
civilian contractors and risk their lives for a salary, to work in Iraq or
Afghanistan? Like, who does that and why?

Mr. MILLER: Certainly it has. One of the things that sort of opened my eyes – I
mean, when you talk about civilian contractors, the first thing that always
comes up is: These guys made a lot of money over in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Certainly, for a lot of those people, it's true. Their salary is tripled or
doubled, and making $120,000 as a truck driver was not unheard of in Iraq and
Afghanistan. But what people constantly told me was they needed a job.

If you wanted to live out the American dream and be able to afford college for
your kids and put braces on your daughter's teeth and put a down payment on a
home, the idea was you go over to Iraq and Afghanistan for a year or two, and
you can make enough money to be able to do that.

Now, you may have sympathy with that or not, but that was often – the belief
was that we can make enough money to get ahead.

There was also, concomitant with that, a strong, usually, dedication to
country. There was a lot of patriotism involved, and many contractors were
former military people, or they were police officers. They were firefighters.
They were teachers and construction workers, and they saw this as a way to help
the American war effort.

But those two motives - there was almost always a patriotism motive, and there
was always often the motive that you could make some money and finally get
ahead in your life. And so, those were typically the people who volunteered for
this.

They tended to be from rural areas. They tended to be from the Midwest and the
South, areas that don't have as great an economy right now, areas that do tend
to have a lot of retired military, and that was very much the pool that these
contractors came from in this country.

GROSS: Well, let's start talking specifically about health insurance. The
contract workers are insured by private companies. It's not government
insurance, and the kind of insurance that they get is determined by a law from
1940. And you've been writing about that. I don't think hardly anybody knows
about this. So would you explain the law that regulates what kind of insurance
the private contractors get?

Mr. MILLER: Sure. It's a law called the Defense Base Act, and it was first
passed in the 1940s. And at the time - for a little bit of history on this
issue of contractors and their participation on the battlefield - at the time
there were about 1,000 contractors who were captured on Wake Island, while they
were building up military bases in U.S. – on Wake Island in preparation for the
war, World War II.

So at the time, 1,000 of these civilian contractors were captured by the
Japanese and held prisoner of war, and the question was: well, what happens to
these people?

And so Congress passed the Defense Base Act, and it was a very rudimentary law,
which is essentially kind of a worker's compensation law. And what it does is
it requires any defense contractor who's working for the U.S. government in a
war zone to purchase worker's compensation for their employees.

Now, the original idea was that these people would be suffering typical
workplace injuries like slipping and falling. In reality, what has occurred is
the civilian contractors have been suffering horrific war zone-type injuries,
such as having their legs blown off or having psychological conditions like
post-traumatic stress disorder.

And so this Defense Base Act law essentially requires a defense contractor to
purchase insurance for a workplace that is actually a war zone. And the
problems that these civilian workers have had in having medical payments paid
for a new prosthetic leg, for instance, is because that was never contemplated
under the law that somebody who is working for a defense contractor would need
two new prosthetic legs or would need three decades' worth of psychological
counseling to overcoming a post-traumatic-stress-type injury which occurred
when they were involved in a horrible roadside bombing.

And so what you've had is this Defense Base Act law was written, designed for a
situation which no longer exists and has mushroomed far beyond what anybody
ever thought it was designed to handle.

GROSS: So why are we still using it, if it's so inappropriate to the situation
our contractors are in now?

Mr. MILLER: I think there's two reasons for that. The first reason is because I
think it's taken a long time to build up enough – a body of injuries and a body
of deaths to even raise an awareness that this law is out there and that people
are using it. I just think there's been a long lag time in realizing or anybody
paying attention to it.

But I also think there is something with the fact that we as a society don't
really have a place, socially, for a civilian war veteran. We know how to treat
veterans, and we know what their status is, and there's a Veteran Affairs
Department, and it's part of the president's Cabinet, and there's a VA system
to deal with them.

If you were somebody who signed up to be an interpreter for a U.S. soldier, and
you were killed next to that soldier while translating for them, you're not a
veteran, but neither are you, I don't think, an ordinary, everyday worker. What
are you socially?

How are we supposed to treat that person when we see them on the street or at a
party or a church, and the minister says, okay, everybody stand up now so we
can recognize our veterans? What then, about all the people in the audience who
may have served over in Iraq and Afghanistan but were not soldiers in the
military, what happens to them? What do you say to them? And I don't think we
have a good handle on it.

GROSS: Now, getting back to the insurance. Now it sounds like the contractors,
the contracting corporations, buy an insurance policy with an insurance
company. And so contractors, individual contractors working for different
companies, probably have different insurance policies?

Mr. MILLER: Right. What the law says is every defense contractor has to
purchase this specialized type of workers' compensation insurance for their
employees. It's up to the contract company to purchase the insurance. As it so
happens, they actually don't have a lot of choices.

AIG sells almost all of the policies which comply with the Defense Base Act.
They sell about 80 to 85 percent of the policies that cover worker injuries.
It's a very specialized type of insurance because it's in a war zone.

So yes, the contract companies are told to go buy this insurance. In point of
fact, they usually end up buying it from AIG and a handful of other companies,
like CNA is another one, and Zurich is yet another one - and they buy that
insurance.

Ultimately, that's paid for by us, by taxpayers, because we fund the contract,
and so the contractor buys the insurance, and then we pay for the total price
of that contract, which includes the insurance. So we end up funding this
insurance policy.

GROSS: You write in your series that early in the Iraq War, it cost taxpayers
$100,000 per year to insure a civilian contractor who was paid $100,000 per
year. So the insurance was the same amount as the salary.

Mr. MILLER: Yeah, that's why I'm saying these prices were just astronomical. I
mean, there's no workers' comp insurance anywhere that has that much of a
premium. You can look at some of the most dangerous professions in the U.S.,
like the fishing industry or the construction industry, and those companies
aren't paying anything like one dollar for insurance for every one dollar of
salary, but in Iraq and Afghanistan, they could charge that because there
wasn't a market.

Another very peculiar part of this particular story is that because of another
law, the U.S. actually reimburses the insurance companies for any civilians who
are injured in a combat situation.

So at the very end, the insurance company will ultimately submit the bill to
the U.S. government, and they will get paid back for any injury involving a
combat wound.

GROSS: Let me ask a stupid question: What is the point of the insurance company
if taxpayers are paying for the premium and then also paying for the medical
bill?

Mr. MILLER: I don't think that's a stupid question at all. I think that's a
very relevant question. The Pentagon, just this summer, finally released a
report, which addressed that, and they essentially said why don't we just self-
insure, like we do in any other field that we're involved with? And the
Pentagon's suggestion was that the Pentagon provided the money to pay for these
injuries, since they're going to pay for it one way or the other anyway, but
remove the level of the private insurance company. Nobody's actually done
anything about that. No senator's office or representative's office has picked
that up, but the savings were several hundred million dollars a year - could
have been saved if that reform was made.

GROSS: My guest is T. Christian Miller, an investigative reporter for
ProPublica. We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is T. Christian Miller, an investigative reporter with
ProPublica. His series, "Disposable Army," is about civilian contractors in
Iraq and Afghanistan who return home with war injuries and have to fight for
the medical care they were promised.

GROSS: So let's compare what the situation is for a military person and for a
civilian contractor who's injured in a war zone. So the military person, they
have the whole military health care system behind there, and they have military
planes to transport – if they've gotten their legs blown off, they have a
military helicopter to transport them to a hospital and then to take them home,
and they have a military hospital, hopefully with state-of-the-art equipment
and prosthetics to help them.

So you're a civilian contractor. Your legs are blown off. How do you even get
out of the war zone? Does the military helicopter take you out, or are you on
your own?

Mr. MILLER: Well, because there is no overall system in place, it very much
depends upon where you are and when it happens. If you happen to be fortunate
enough – I guess is not a good word – but if you happen to be with the U.S.
military when your legs are blown off, you will at least be given military
transport out of the country to a military hospital - if you're an American -
and will be discharged eventually to an American hospital.

So if, however, you happen to be driving from Point A to Point B, and your legs
are blown off, then it's up to – your contract company, hopefully, has arranged
some means to evacuate you out of the country.

If you happen to be a third-country national or an Iraqi or Afghan, you may be
taken to a local hospital, whose standards of care are nowhere near what are in
the United States or nowhere near what the military is going to receive, and
worse, since you've been clearly identified as having been working with the
U.S. military, you run the risk of being targeted by insurgents and actually
being killed in the hospital or as soon as you return home because the
insurgents will go after you as somebody who collaborated.

So in many ways, there is no system, at all, for these people, and it depends
very much on who you are and where you are and what happens if you're able to
get medical care.

GROSS: Say you're an American civilian contractor, you've had your legs blown
off, you return home, you need prosthetics, you need physical therapy, you need
a whole lot of health care.

Mr. MILLER: Then if you're an American civilian contractor who has been – had
his legs blown off, you will go through the military system, and as soon as you
are stabilized, you will be discharged to an American hospital. Hopefully,…

GROSS: But you do go through the military system first?

Mr. MILLER: You will be stabilized under an emergency-care policy. So you will
have your – yes, the bleeding will be stopped, and they will make sure that
you're in stable condition before discharging you. So that can be a number –
three or four days, or it can be several weeks, but you will eventually be
discharged to an American hospital for all the fitting of prosthetic devices,
the psychological counseling, the physical therapy. All that will be done by
the American – like a private hospital, like any other private hospital. You
essentially become a car accident victim at that stage of the game, and that's
how you will appear to the medical system, as somebody who has been in some
horrible car accident.

GROSS: Now, you have written about a lot of people who have had trouble getting
reimbursement for their expenses or getting approval for the prosthetic legs
that they need. What's the process like for a civilian contractor who has to
get approval for – let's use the example of the prosthetic leg.

Mr. MILLER: For instance, I talked to a South Carolina retired police officer,
a sheriff's deputy named Tim Newman(ph), who had lost his leg in Iraq. And when
he returned home, he received a prosthetic leg, but it wasn't very good. It
didn't fit him. So he had to – he wanted to a more modern prosthetic leg, a
more up-to-date one, and it took him I believe almost a year of basically
asking his insurance company, saying would you please approve a better
prosthetic leg to help me be able to walk up stairs on my own?

And it took him – he actually had to take the insurance company through a court
process until he finally got a court ruling which said yes, you, insurance
company, have to pay for Tim Newman's new prosthetic leg. But imagine going
through a year of just not knowing the answer to that or having to fight for
that.

The American military system, medical system, definitely has flaws, but there's
a system in place to address these kinds of issues that just doesn't even exist
at all. We can't even complain about or talk about flaws in the system for
civilian contractors because there is no system, really, to talk about.

GROSS: So is the example that you just gave of the person for whom it took a
year to get the leg that he needed, is that a typical story, or is that
atypical?

Mr. MILLER: I can't really tell you with any certainty whether or not it's
typical or atypical, because there is no large body of knowledge of amputee
victims and what they've had to go through.

I know that the amputees that I have talked to have recounted similar stories
in terms of getting such things as, like, additional fittings of, like, a
sleeve that goes over between your prosthetic leg and your limb and have
trouble that way.

I haven't talked, though, and I wouldn't represent that I had talked to all the
amputees, so maybe there's a huge body of very happy, satisfied customers out
there, but I know the individuals who I have encountered and I have talked to,
almost all of them have had some sort of issue in dealing with these insurance
companies, and it's not always the insurance companies' fault.

I mean, a lot of these individuals were injured in a war zone. You've got to be
able to prove that your injury occurred, that you need this type of a device,
and those are all demands that are built into any typical insurance system. And
so these people are dealing with a medical insurance system, which is designed
for a workplace but is actually addressing the wounds and injuries and deaths
that happen on a battlefield.

GROSS: Now, you write that I think 50 percent of the claims for post-traumatic
stress disorder are turned down by the private insurance companies that insure
civilian contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan. So how does that compare to the
rate that the military medical system turns down?

Mr. MILLER: Well, here's an important distinction to make between the two
systems. The military system, everyone who has claims that have PTSD has access
to a military doctor. The problems come in when they also claim they were
disabled by that injury.

So a soldier has, although it may take some time, he or she has access to a
psychologist or a therapist to help them. They may or may not get disability
pay for that, but they have access to medical care.

For the civilian-contractor set, both those issues are up for a debate, and a
civilian contractor may apply for a therapy session, and it will not be
approved for them, and they will never get the therapy session unless they take
their insurance company to court.

This is the single largest issue that you see, the insurance company struggling
with PTSD. PTSD is, by its nature, a difficult condition to diagnose. It's a
psychological condition. It's certainly not something you see in a workplace on
an everyday basis, much more common in a war zone.

So the insurance companies are having to struggle with: How do we pay for these
expensive, long-term psychological treatments that may be necessary in this
case? How do we, you know, deal with that and address that issue? And so these
private insurance companies have essentially become a private VA system for the
civilian contractors who have had psychological injuries.

GROSS: T. Christian Miller will be back in the second half of the show. He's an
investigative reporter with ProPublica. His series is called "Disposable Army:
Civilian Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan." I'm Terry Gross, and this is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross back with T. Christian Miller, an
investigative reporter for ProPublica, a nonprofit news organization. He's
written a series of articles called "Disposable Army: Civilian Contractors in
Iraq and Afghanistan." It's about civilians working with private military
companies who have been injured in war zones while supporting the American
military but don’t have access to the veteran health care system and often have
to fight for the medical benefits they are owed. Miller is a former LA Times
reporter. He's covered four wars, he covered Iraqi reconstruction and wrote the
2006 book about private military companies called "Blood Money: Wasted
Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq."

I know you don’t have exact numbers on this, but how common do you think it is
that civilian contractors are denied claims or denied coverage for things as
essential as a prosthetic leg?

Mr. MILLER: Well, what you'll find that we found when we analyzed information
on these insurance claims that we got from the Labor Department after a Freedom
of Information Act lawsuit and the Labor Department, which administers the
system and keeps track of the system to a very minimal degree, showed that that
data - showed that about almost one of every two claims gets some kind of a
denial from the insurance industry, which is much higher than a typical
insurance industry denial rate.

So one of every two claims they’ll hit some hostility where they'll get some
pushback from the insurance company saying we can't pay for your treatment now
or we'll pay for it later or we'll never pay for it. And that's the best we
could do in terms of being able to explore this world, is that we know that
there's been this initial denial, at least, almost one of every two times. I
think the figure was 44 percent of the time.

Now that's just for the people who file claims. A lot of contractors don’t know
about this insurance at all, especially those that we’ve hired from overseas,
they don’t even know to file a claim. So there's a number of individuals out
there who are sick or wounded or injured, who are owed medical treatment or who
are owed treatments and are not getting them at all.

GROSS: Now why don’t they know that they have this coverage? Do the contracting
companies intentionally not tell their employees?

Mr. MILLER: I don’t think that's - that certainly could happen sometimes. What
I think is much more common is the falling scenario: It's a little known fact
that two-thirds of the civilian workforce in Iraq and Afghanistan are
foreigners, people from other countries like Iraq, from Afghanistan, local
laborers hired there, people who are imported from third world countries like
the Philippines - and that makes up the bulk of the contracting force. They're
generally working to clean clothes or serve meals. They're, nonetheless, often
suffer injuries because they'll - mortars will fall into a camp or they’ll be
going from one place to another and they’ll be attacked.

Those individuals simply don’t know about the system because they’ve never been
told about it. They never heard about it, the Labor Department's made no effort
to contact them, they may be subcontractors of subcontractors of
subcontractors, so they simply don’t know the system exist and there's no easy
way to find out about it, either. So you have an enormous number of people out
there who are simple ignorant of their rights. And what's I think saddest about
that is that taxpayers have actually paid the price to cover those people.
We’ve already paid for their insurance, but they're not taking advantage of it.
And so, that money that money is going to stay in the hands of companies like
AIG and CNA, who don’t have to pay out on those claims.

GROSS: You also found instances where people were basically pressured -
civilian contractors were pressured to accept a settlement instead of what they
were actually insured for, which was more of a lifetime benefit.

Mr. MILLER: Right. I think those are some of the - some of the saddest cases of
all involve Iraqis and Afghans who went to work to translate for American
troops. The U.S. troops need to be able to understand the locals and when they
do their counterinsurgency work or when they're just going about a market town.
So they were often hired - Defense contractors would hire locals to translate
for these troops. They worked right alongside them, they drove in the same
vehicles, they worked with them 24 hours a day.

When those guys got injured or were attacked, they were often with the soldiers
so there was some system where they would file a claim. When then happened, is
you have the insurance company come and say well, we'll give you $5,000. We'll
give you $10,000 to settle off. Sign this piece of paper and we're done with
you. And to an Afghan villager or to an Iraqi villager, that seemed like a lot
of money. When if they had had full access to the system, had, you know, had
some knowledge of what the system was, that claim would typically have been
paid off for let's say $100,000, they may have taken something like $10,000 or
$50,000 for it. And so they ended up receiving far less money than they were
actually owed.

GROSS: So you’re writing about how some Iraqi and Afghani interpreters had been
taken advantage of, and right now, we need a lot more interpreters in
Afghanistan because we have more troops there to interpret for, the war has
escalated there. So do you think things are improving for the translators?

Mr. MILLER: No, not at all. I think this is a problem that's going to get a lot
worse before it gets better and that's because these people literally have,
although they are translators, they have no voice; there's no translators of
Afghanistan and Iraq lobby in Washington. So there's nobody who's really paying
any attention to their medical needs, their benefits, any of the monies they're
getting - so it’s a completely unregulated system, an unregulated place and
they don’t have any real access to the system.

And so until that changes, until somebody cares enough or pays enough
attention, these Afghans and Iraqis who have worked with U.S. troops and often
helped them greatly will kind of remain a disposable army. They just - we have
hired them, they’ve been injured and then they go back to their villages where
they suffer by themselves.

GROSS: You traveled around the world for your research for this series. Tell us
something that's very revealing that you were only able to find by going to
another country.

Mr. MILLER: Yeah. I mean this is an argument for, what ProPublica does is we're
a nonprofit investigative newsroom and we were founded because of the belief
that there's a need for investigative journalism, which often costs a lot of
money and takes a lot of time. In this particular case, for instance, I went to
the Philippines and to find some widows of civilians - Filipino civilians who'd
worked for - serving meals for soldiers that had been killed and I essentially
had to go trolling through slums in the Philippines trying to kind of find, do
you know who this woman is? You know, I have a name that someone else gave me.
Can you direct me to this house?

And so the most striking moment to me is when we ended up at the house of a
woman who owned a small store and her husband had been killed while working for
the U.S. military in Baghdad. She didn’t know anything about the system; she
never filed for benefits; the husband was kind of the sole breadwinner for the
family. And that particular evening, she had sent her children out to go look
for snails in local ponds and ditches because they had no food.

And it was this moment of sort of clarity where you realize that really what
you want to stand for as a country, that we're going to hire impoverished
people from third world countries that are illiterate and have no idea about
this system and just throw them away after they’ve been killed or injured. And
to me, that was the moment when I realized that this was an important story and
one that takes time and effort. And both Los Angeles Times and ProPublica have
kind of shown, you know, a commitment to getting that story done and in the
paper.

GROSS: What should this widow have been eligible for?

Mr. MILLER: She would've been eligible for two-thirds of her husband's salary
for the rest of her life - for her life. Now that's not a lot of money by our
standards. If I recall correctly, he was making about $25,000 or $30,000 a
year. But in the Philippines, $20,000 U.S. a year is quite a lot of money, so
it would've made all the difference in the world for this woman and her
children to receive that amount of money and said she hadn't received anything
- didn’t even know about the system at all.

GROSS: And did she file for that claim after she found out from you?

Mr. MILLER: Yes. She has filed for that claim now and it's going through the
process. It takes a long time to just file the claim and get it approved and
done and she has - she's still waiting.

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is investigative reporter T.
Christian Miller and we're talking about a series that he's written called
"Disposable Army: Civilian Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan."

We'll talk more with him about the series and about the problems that civilian
contractors are having getting their medical benefit after we take a short
break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: If you’re just joining us, my guest is T. Christian Miller. He's an
investigative reporter for ProPublica, formerly worked with the Los Angeles
Times. He's the author of a book about private contractors called "Blood Money:
Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq."

Recently, he's been writing a series of articles called "Disposable Army:
Civilian Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan." And this series is about
civilian contractors, people who are civilians who work for these contracting
companies in war zones and who are supposed to be collecting health insurance
but don’t necessarily get what they are owed. And he's investigating the whole
health insurance system for private contractors for civilian contractors.

The nature of war and who fights war in our country has changed. I mean
granted, the civilian contractor positions are supposed to be support positions
and not combat positions but they get injured as if they were in combat
frequently. But, I mean there was a time when the military did the support work
too and that time, part of that time was a time of the draft, so it wasn’t a
question of a volunteer Army and there were more people to draw on. But what
are some of the larger questions you think we're facing now, because we have
such reliance on civilian contractors in our war efforts in Afghanistan and
Iraq?

It initially seemed like oh, it was going to be more cost-effective. But
listening to you talk about, you know, the health insurance issues, it sounds
like it's actually probably more expensive on that front. So let's just look at
the money for one second. I mean do you think we're spending more or less or
the same by contracting out a lot of the work?

Mr. MILLER: Well, let me take that in two parts, Terry, because I think you
have hit on the single biggest question which is: What are the overall issues
with hiring people to fight this war? And I think the single biggest answer to
that is you actually hide the cost of the war. You hide the cost of the war in
terms of the human cost. There's been 1,700 contractors killed. Who ever has
even heard that? That number is not tallied up officially anywhere.

And then you had the cost of the expense of fighting it, because who knows how
much money has actually been spent contracting this out and who knows how much
money is eventually going to be spent paying for these people. And the answer
is nobody knows. Nobody really knows that answer.

To answer you specific question about the cost of this, contracting, the
studies that I've read say that on a very short-term basis, it makes it usually
is a cost savings in hiring contractors. But we’ve been in Iraq and Afghanistan
now for eight years or Afghanistan for eight years. I don’t know that I've seen
any studies that suggests that it still makes sense to contract out every
single function, as many as we have done for eight years, and you still expect
to see a cost savings to the government.

GROSS: What other questions does our reliance on civilian contractors raise for
you? You’ve been researching private military contractors for years now.

Mr. MILLER: I think the biggest unanswered question is: What, if anything, does
American society owe to the people we have hired to fight this war? And by that
I mean we know there's a very robust system for veterans, and I don’t want to
compare veterans and contractors. They're different for many many reasons. But
it also seems to me that if civilian contractors are not veterans, which
they're not, their neither are they people who sat on their hands and did
nothing to help the U.S. war effort. They went over to help the U.S. war
effort. Yes, they were paid well; many of them were paid very well. But is that
all? Are we then done? And is that we, as a democracy, are we comfortable with
that? Are we comfortable that if you lost both your legs as a soldier, but were
paid well, that we owe you no more consideration than that? And one of the
people that I talked to said he believes that the civilian contractors are kind
of like the Vietnam veterans in the ‘70s and ‘60s, which is there was - people
were angry at the - some of the soldiers that came back.

And I think we, as a society, learned that you don’t want to be angry at an
individual soldier. You can be angry at the war and the people who prosecuted
the war, but a neutral soldier, it's rare that you see somebody sort of spit at
an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran. But the civilian contractors are still reviled
to a certain degree, certain quarters, as being war machineries or as being
profiteers. And so they have taken the function of anger onto themselves now.
And I don’t really know, ultimately, how that’s going to play out. But I think
that’s a big unanswered question, which is how do these people socially fit in,
who have the experience of war, but are not soldiers?

GROSS: T, you’ve been doing some really amazing reporting in this series,
relying on the Freedom of Information Act, getting access to databases,
traveling around the world, interviewing people. And you’ve been doing this
through ProPublica. And, you know, a lot of newspapers have cut - severely cut
their investigative staffs because investigative reporting is so expensive and
time consuming. And when people say, well, where is the investigative reporting
going to be in the future, a lot of people point to the model of ProPublica as
an example of a system that could work. Would you tell us a little about that
model from your perspective, as a reporter?

Mr. MILLER: Yes. I’m very, very happy to be employed by ProPublica, but I don’t
think that ProPublica or any model like that is ever going to be able to
replace the role of American newspapers and American television stations in
investigating corruption. ProPublica is a nonprofit. We’re founded by primarily
the Sandler Foundation. And there are 30 of us in a newsroom in New York which
work with other mainstream groups to do investigative journalism. Although we
are the largest investigative newsroom of this kind, it hardly - there's hardly
enough of us to replace the tens of thousands of journalists who have been laid
off over the past several years in the face of the decline of American
journalism.

So, I think we are an answer. I think we help fill the gap that has been left.
But I don’t think that, ultimately, nonprofit foundations like ours are going
to be able to replace all the great journalism that’s been done or has been
done by the American news industry over the past several decades. So I can’t
tell you ultimately where all this is headed. I just know that there is a
dearth of investigative journalism that a functioning democracy must have
filled in order to operate. I don’t know where that’s going to come from.

GROSS: Well, T. Christian Miller, thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. MILLER: Thanks so much for having me, Terry. I appreciate it very much.

GROSS: T. Christian Miller is an investigative reporter with the nonprofit news
organization ProPublica. His series is called, "Disposable Army: Civilian
Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan." You can find a link to his ProPublica
series on our Web site: freshair.npr.org.

Before we hear Ken Tucker’s review of Mary J. Blige’s new CD, I want to let you
know that the show we’re planning for Wednesday is with T. Bone Burnett, who
produced the soundtrack for the new film, "Crazy Heart," starring Jeff Bridges
as a washed-up country singer. Burnett also co-wrote some of the songs. You may
be wondering, how does Jeff Bridge’s sound as a singer? Here he is, singing a
song from the film.

(Soundbite of movie, "Crazy Heart")

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. JEFF BRIDGES (Actor): (As Bad Blake) (Singing) I was going where I
shouldn’t go, seeing who I shouldn’t see, doing what I shouldn’t do, and being
who I shouldn’t be. Oh, and no voice could be so wrong, another voice for me is
all right. I used to think that I was strong, but lately I have lost the fight.

Funny how falling feels like flying, for a little while. Funny how falling
feels like flying, for a little while.

I got tired of being good. Started wishing that I'm feeling free. Kept acting
like I thought I should, and went on back to being me. I never meant to hurt no
one. And I was glad you had my wing(ph). There's such a thing as too much fun.
Yeah, this must be the price of free(ph).

Funny how falling feels like flying, for a little while.

GROSS: That was Jeff Bridges with his co-star Colin Farrell from a soundtrack
of the new film, "Crazy Heart."

Coming up, rock critic Ken Tucker reviews Mary J. Blige’s new album.

This is FRESH AIR.
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Mary J. Blige: Soul ‘Stronger’ Than Music

TERRY GROSS, host:

Our rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of Mary J. Blige’s new album, her
ninth, "Stronger with Each Tear." Blige bridges hip-hop and rhythm and blues
and inspires the kind of devotion that’s led her to be called the queen hip-hop
soul. Ken says that while this collection is uneven, its high points narrate
the high opinion of her admirers.

(Soundbite of song, "I Can See in Color")

Ms. MARY J. BLIGE (Singer): (Singing) It took a long time to get to this place.
And now that I’m here, no one can ever erase. The joy…

KEN TUCKER: Mary J. Blige has a classic R&B instrument. Her voice has that
mixture of gospel assurance, soulful rawness and a dynamic range that enables
to her make her best performances short stories with a beginning, middle and an
often cataclysmic end. "Stronger With Each Tear" is an uneven album that finds
Blige shifting her tactics between commercial calculation, gut-instinct music
she just wants to sing the heck out of, and some ineffable combination of the
two. All of these factors come together in one of the remarkably good songs on
the album, called "Kitchen."

(Soundbite of song, "Kitchen")

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Him and you, girl.

Ms. BLIGE: (Singing) Him and you girl. I know lot of girls who don’t need a
man, but I need this one.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) I need this one.

Ms. BLIGE: (Singing) Yeah. And I know you might need you a man, but you ain't
getting this one.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Ain't getting this one. No, no, no.

Ms. BLIGE: (Singing) See, I can have anybody, baby, I ain't stressing. But what
I done for him, I consider him an investment. Trying to take my man is like
trying to take my money. And trying to take my money, well, it just ain't
happening. I don’t know it all, but I tell what I know. Never let a girl cook
in your kitchen.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Kitchen.

Ms. BLIGE: (Singing) All up in your fridge…

TUCKER: Mary J. Blige carries off that song's slightly strained metaphor, the
man she loves as her kitchen, and thus the refrain, never let a girl cook in
your kitchen. Her tone is at once pleading, don’t take him away from me,
ferocious, you better not take him, and playful: This is my kitchen, honey, and
things can get hot here. The result is a fine, fine, pop-soul ballad. A few
times on this album, Blige is obliged to craft a few cutting-edge hip-hop
tracks, but she’s too much of a craftsperson to make them sound like mere
obligations. This is what gives "The One," a track performed with the hottest
name in hip-hop right now, Drake, a jolt of juiciness - that and Drake’s line
late in the song, quote, "You might block me, but this ain’t Jenga."

(Soundbite of song, "The One")

Mr. DRAKE (Singer): (Singing) Them other girl’s you done been with. None of
them got nothing on me. Hating on my style, they ain't got nothing on me,
nothing on me. Way I walk, the way I talk, my swagger. Look around, every dude
want to have her. I ain't saying that I’m the best, but I’m the best. Hey, baby
you need that. Stop looking for it, looking for it, I’m the one. Stop looking
for it, looking for it, I’m the one. Stop looking for it, looking for it, I’m
the one. Stop looking for it, looking for it, I’m the one. Stop looking for it,
looking for it, I’m the one. Stop looking for it, looking for it, I’m the one.
Yeah, that boy doesn't know I'm the one. That boy doesn't know I'm the one.

TUCKER: A stand-out performance on "Stronger with Each Tear" is the song "In
The Morning." Blige begins it crooning smoothly, alongside beautifully arranged
brass and keyboard sections. Then she modulates into the more forceful chorus,
begging the question: will you love me in the morning - leaving the listener to
think, who would have the nerve not to?

(Soundbite of song, "In the Morning")

Ms. BLIGE: (Singing) Baby, when this all began, you said that love would never
end. Some time has passed. We’ve settled in, now the shadow of darkness is
covering. Yeah. Tell me what happened. It started changing up, and you and me
are acting so different. Oh. I know that I love you. And you're in love with
me, that's what you say, but I just can’t believe it. Did we disagree fuss and
fight or get it wrong more that it’s right? Did we make mistakes and fix
mistakes but never even see an eye to eye? But when the dust clears and settles
and it's all is said and done, when the night breaks and day finally comes,
will you love me in the morning?

TUCKER: What Blige does on "In the Morning," is to update the kind of soul
Aretha Franklin made in 1976 on the appallingly underrated soundtrack album to
the movie "Sparkle," produced and arranged by Curtis Mayfield. Like both
Franklin and Mayfield, Blige is a changeling artist. She can play the defiant
one, the victim, the seducer, and the controller all with equal effectiveness
when her material approaches her talent. On "Stronger with Each Tear," she’s
taken what could have been just one more inspirational-anthem hodgepodge and
shaped it into something that may have weak spots, but which can also carry you
away with a romantic realism that can be as brutal as it is dreamily
hypnotizing.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed
"Stronger with Each Tear" by Mary J. Blige.

You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site, freshair.npr.org. And
you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.
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Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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