Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Ever-Mounting Human Cost of Our Wars

The Washington Post reports on a story that's getting more and more traction, especially in the aftermath of the attacks at Fort Hood.  The morale of US troops in Afghanistan is down (even as morale of troops in Iraq is touted as on the rise), and soldiers dealing with emotional-health issues are having great difficulty getting help because the military is understaffed with mental-health professionals.  Combine that with the continuing stigma in the military for soldiers who admit to problems and seek help, and it's obvious that these guys are in a world of hurt.

And that's just the tip of the ice-berg.

Kelly Vlahos reported recently on the number of US casualties from both the Iraq and the Afghanistan wars.  The total: 90,000.
That includes a tire-screeching 75,134 dead, wounded-in-action, and medically evacuated due to illness, disease, or injury in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF), and 14,323 and counting in Afghanistan, or Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).
These numbers do not include suicides:
196 servicemembers took their own lives while serving in Iraq between March 2003 and Oct. 31, 2009, and there were 35 such suicides in Afghanistan. (These figures, of course, do not include the skyrocketing cases of suicides among all active-duty soldiers and veterans and cases of self-inflicted injury outside both war zones.)
And consider this:
some 454,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have already sought medical care from the Veterans Administration (VA) when they came home. That’s 40 percent of the total OIF/OEF veteran population, which is a number that is of course in flux, considering that the war has no end and veterans have five years to apply for care after the end of their service.

As of this summer, of those veterans who sought healthcare at the VA, 45 percent were diagnosed with a mental health condition, according to VA statistics. Twenty-seven percent of these had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Based on available resources from the DOD and research by the RAND Corporation, VCS estimates that an estimated 370,000 (or 19.5 percent of) veterans have a traumatic brain injury (TBI) thanks to the high rate of accidents, roadside bombs, and other battlefield explosions and events – plus repeated deployments – in the war. VCS also estimates that some 18.5 percent of veterans come home with PTSD.

And consider the costs to come:
Looking at it in monetary terms – more numbers – may seem cold, but again, it puts the taxpayers’ burden into shocking perspective. Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz have identified two scenarios in their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War (2008). One scenario estimates a long-term cost of $422 billion to the federal government for veterans’ health care and disability compensation (given 1.8 million men and women deployed and troop levels falling below 55,000 by 2012). In the other scenario, the U.S. stays in Iraq and Afghanistan another eight years and 2.1 million men and women are deployed, with a price tag of $717 billion
And not mentioned here are the social costs: lives ruined, families destroyed, children either without a parent or burdened with a parent who may be deeply emotionally disturbed, emotionally unstable men and women who, to some extent, are walking, ticking time-bombs re-introduced into an American society that goes on playing its video games and generally trying hard to ignore the evidence of the destruction its government's actions are wreaking.

And, of course, so many of us are in complete denial of the even larger human cost of those actions: the tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of Iraqis and Afghans who've been maimed or killed by US intervention - and the (surely) hundreds of thousands of internal and external refugees, widows, orphans, families who have lost husbands, wives, fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters.  Again, most Americans are oblivious to their loss, their personal catastrophes. 

Of course, when the US president who launched these wars insists that we're fighting people who don't value life like "we" do, it's easy for Americans to buy into some misguided notion that "their" lives don't really count, and that their feelings about all this need not be reckoned with.

Wanna bet?

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