There's a brouha brewing in England, where a civilian employee of the Ministry of Defense (MoD) has been awarded 202,000 pounds for straining his back while picking up a printer. In this country, $350K+ awards are not all that unusual for (serious) back injuries, but the British tabloid press has jumped all over this story, comparing the generous benefits to those awarded seriously injured soldiers returning from the Iraq war.
The Telegraph cites Pvt. Jamie Cooper, who was just 18 when hit by mortar rounds in Basra in November of 2006. (He is the youngest British soldier to be injured in Iraq.) He suffered internal injuries, a shattered pelvis, his leg was damaged and he lost the use of a hand. Payment for his troubles? About 57,000 pounds.
Jamie's father, Phil, does not mince his words: "It is disgraceful. This faceless bureaucrat picks up a printer and gets 202,000 pounds and my son picks up two mortar blasts and gets 57,000. It says it all."
A spokesperson for MoD points out that Cooper received not just the lump sum award, but also a "guaranteed tax-free, 9,000 pound a year for life - 60 percent of his final salary." True enough, but the "salary" of a soldier is rather piddling when compared to jobs in the open market.
Two Different Worlds
It is ultimately futile to compare the world of ordinary work with war. Were the actuaries to calculate a workers comp rate for an infantryman in Iraq, the numbers would dwarf those for our most dangerous occupations - ironworkers, lumberjacks and fishermen. In the ordinary working world, steps can be taken to control risk. In war, risk is rampant and beyond control. Your goal is simply to survive the day.
In a way, it's like looking at the world through binoculars: the first time, you get a magnified image: the suffering of an individual really seems to matter. If you turn the glasses around, everything is suddenly diminished. War has a way of making the pain and suffering of individuals fade away to nothing.
When we read that an RAF typist who injured her thumb was awarded 484,000 pounds, or another civilian employee was awarded 217,000 pounds for chronic fatigue syndrome and depression, we shrug. That's just the disability system operating in its usual and customary fashion. But when you compare these generous benefits to those given to the shattered veterans returning from war, shrugging is insufficient. It is an outrage. It makes you shake your head with a combination of wonder and dismay, even as you stir in a bit of honey to sweeten your morning tea.