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Monday, July 05, 2004

One in Twenty 

Via BuzzFlash: As of June 18, the official Pentagon casualty count for Iraq and Afghanistan was 922 killed, 5,457 wounded in action. But -- according to an investigation by the PBS series NOW -- the offical tally ignores over 11,000 sick, injured and disabled soldiers sent home to military hospitals. Why? Because they did not sustain their wounds and injuries in what the Pentagon classifies as "direct combat":
BENJAMIN: If your son rolls over in a hummer outside Baghdad tomorrow and breaks his back, he may not be a casualty according to the Pentagon. But if he's your kid, he's a casualty.

There are lots of soldiers getting hurt in accidents. Or lots of soldiers getting sick. Lots of soldiers they're getting strokes. They have heart attacks. They have heat exhaustion. They don't get enough water. They are having mental problems because of extreme duress.

The large number of people that are serving in this war, Operation Iraqi Freedom, that are coming home with serious, serious mental problem, physical problems that are going to last them the rest of their lives, are not showing up in these numbers.

MITCHELL: [Army specialist Denver] Jones was assigned to a transportation unit in Iraq. And one day, while on a mission carrying supplies, the truck he was in hit a hole in the road.

JONES: My head came up, hit the ceiling, jammed my neck down, I came down and hit on my tail in the seat, and it broke some seat brackets out from under the seat, and I pretty much was, you know, pretty hurt after that.

MITCHELL: It turned out, Jones had three ruptured discs, and two fractured vertebrae. He was eventually medivaced to the army's Walter Reed Medical Center in Washington, DC where doctors operated and fused part of his spine.

Jones does physical therapy daily now, but his doctors tell him this is as good as he'll get.

JONES: I feel like a 90-year-old man trapped in a 35-year-old body. That's the way I feel physically.

I've put on 40 pounds. My arms have atrophied. I have hardly any, you know, upper muscular structure like I used to have. It's hard for me to walk, it's hard for me to sleep, it's hard for me to sit, stand.

MITCHELL: Denver Jones' life has been forever changed, so why doesn't the Pentagon include him in its official count? The reason? The Pentagon doesn't consider these types of wounds combat-related.

BENJAMIN: I was shocked when I called the Pentagon and said 'what is the number of casualties from operation Iraqi Freedom?' And they said to me, 'We at the Pentagon do not have that number. You can call the individual services and see what they say their casualties are. But we don't know.'

MITCHELL: The Pentagon also told us to call the individual services: together, they report more than 11,000 sick and injured in Iraq, in addition to the more than 5,000 wounded in action.

That's about 5 percent of the roughly 300,000 soldiers who have served there, about one of every 20 soldiers.

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