Monday, December 12, 2005

Off the Books 

Via Zemblan patriot J.M.: The official Pentagon casualty count for Iraq and Afghanistan lists 2390 Americans dead and 16,000 wounded. Those figures, however, omit 25,289 service members who have been evacuated from the battle zones "for injuries or illnesses not caused directly by enemy bullets or bombs." At Salon, Mark Benjamin looks in on a couple of those soldiers who don't qualify as casualties:
In the past few weeks, I've been spending time with two soldiers currently getting treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington. One is a 40-year-old man who served in Iraq with the South Carolina Army National Guard. He got hit by a truck in Iraq, fracturing a vertebra, chipping another, and hurting his shoulder. The impact also caused his brain to rock violently inside his skull. He has been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury. His wife can't dispatch him down the aisle of a supermarket to fetch ice cream because he often can't remember what happened just five minutes ago.

Another 46-year-old soldier who served in the West Virginia Army National Guard was in an armored personnel carrier that crashed into an eight-foot hole. Because of his traumatic brain injury, his memory is shot. He slurs his words like a drunk and walks with a cane because of dizzy spells. Given the way the Pentagon tabulates casualties, neither of these men count . . . .

As the war goes on, that picture is becoming more painfully clear. The Department of Veterans Affairs provides soldiers with medical care after leaving the military. An October V.A. report shows that 119,247 service members who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan -- and are now off duty -- are receiving health care from the V.A. Presumably, some of those health problems are unrelated to the war.

But the statistics seem to show that a lot of those health problems are war-related. For example, nearly 37,000 have mental disorders, including nearly 16,000 who have been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder. Over 46,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan receiving benefits from the V.A. have musculoskeletal problems. These are all veterans who within the last four years were considered by the military to be mentally and physically fit enough to fight.
John Conyers and six other Congresspersons wrote President Bush last week to demand an honest accounting of the cost, in American bodies, of his elective war:
Based on the data that have been released by your Administration and the unofficial data that are coming out of the Pentagon, what we can be certain of is that at least tens of thousands of young men and women have been physically or psychologically damaged for life. To be exact, the figure ranges somewhere between 15,000 and 101,000 today. This is a staggering range of casualties by any standard, as these casualties will affect the lives of at least hundreds of thousands of family members and others. We cannot emphasize enough how important it is that we understand the gravity of the situation that we are faced with.

Since the March 2003 invasion, our troops have been dying at a rate of about 800 a year, with most killed in action by crude but powerful roadside bombs. More than 90 percent of the deaths have come after you declared an end to "major combat operations" on May 1, 2003. Moreover, the Pentagon reports that of the service members returning from the Iraq war this year, 47 percent saw someone wounded or killed, or saw a dead body. This is no small matter that can be downplayed by superficial reassurances designed to temporarily assuage the uneasiness of the American public. The effects of this war will remain for many years to come and each and every one of us will have to cope with it.

The American people have sacrificed a great deal as a result of this war and they deserve to know what you know. Those who have sacrificed deserve to know that their sacrifice counted and that their service abroad was as recognizable as that of our fallen soldiers. Further, the failure of your Administration to acknowledge the loss of Iraqi lives prevents the American people from having a complete picture of the cost of this war. We urge you to honor your duty as our Commander-in-Chief to keep the American people regularly informed of the true human cost of the Iraq War.

| | Technorati Links | to Del.icio.us