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Insurer OKs treatment for veteran’s brain injury

Woman hopes year of delays won’t hamper therapy’s effects

Jennifer Barcklay, a helicopter mechanic, was injured by a mortar explosion in Afghanistan. (Colin Mulvany)
Jennifer Barcklay, a helicopter mechanic, was injured by a mortar explosion in Afghanistan. (Colin Mulvany)

A Spokane-area woman who was injured by an enemy mortar explosion while working as a helicopter mechanic in Afghanistan has received approval from a government-contracted insurance company to receive the treatment her doctors say she needs.

Jennifer Barcklay, 40, of Chattaroy, was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury after the September 2009 attack at a forward operating base in eastern Afghanistan, where she was employed by Blackwater, the private defense security contractor now known as Xe Services.

On Wednesday, she was told that Chartis WorldSource, the giant insurance company once known as American International Group, or AIG, would cover the cognitive rehabilitation therapy recommended by eight medical providers in Spokane.

“This is bittersweet,” said Barcklay, who is also a U.S. Army veteran. “I’m hoping it’s not too late.”

It has been more than a year since Barcklay’s providers first began recommending comprehensive cognitive rehabilitation, which is more effective the sooner it is begun. It is not offered locally.

She continues to endure seizures, memory loss, headaches, tremors and problems with her balance that prevent her from returning to work.

“Frankly, I am appalled at how many obstacles have been placed in the way of her receiving the treatment she needs,” Spokane neuropsychologist Winifred Daisley wrote to the insurer on Barcklay’s behalf.

A nurse contracted by Chartis to manage Barcklay’s case was unexpectedly terminated in October after notifying the insurer that her patient was approved for treatment at the Centre for Neuro Skills in Bakersfield, Calif.

Under the Defense Base Act of 1941, defense contractors must provide medical and disability insurance for their workers in war zones. The premiums are included in contracts with the Department of Defense.

There were nearly 56,000 such claims for injuries or deaths from the start of the Iraq war to 2009. That year, a congressional investigation found that insurance companies have been slow to approve claims for injuries despite receiving millions in premiums from the federal government.

Another World War II-era law, the War Hazards Compensation Act, reimburses the employer or insurer for injuries or death to a worker caused by an act of war. The insurer is reimbursed by the taxpayers for 100 percent of the claim, plus 15 percent for administrative costs.

Chartis’ approval of Barcklay’s treatment followed a letter from the U.S. Department of Labor, recommending that she be allowed to go to the Centre for Neuro Skills.

The letter also was critical of an independent review of Barcklay’s medical records by a Chartis-contracted neuropsychiatrist in Rhode Island who appeared to diagnose the patient’s condition as psychological rather than physiological without examining her.

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