Thursday, July 14, 2005

Long Term Costs of the War in Iraq...and Afghanistan...and so on

Harper's Magazine for July 2005 has a very interesting as well as moving article on the real costs of the war in Iraq. Ronald J. Glasser writes the article "A War of Disabilities." It was nice for me to see someone write about a topic I have wondered about myself from watching the news. That is the topic of the soldiers who get wounded in the war. We hear a lot in the news about how soldiers need better body armor (they do), how their vehicles need better protection (they do as well), and we hear of the deaths. But we don't often seem to hear about the wounded, and that is the focus of this article. The article focuses on discussing and summarizing the long term costs of caring for wounded veterans. He provides a good discussion of the differences between a war like Vietnam, where soldiers often died from being shot in the chest, for instance, versus the urban war in Iraq where the body armor protects their torso, but they are more likely to lose an arm or a leg to an IED or from some other explosive. In addition, there are the soldiers who may be near a blast, but the effects on their head might not surface until much later. This is due to shockwaves from explosions which can be as bad as a piece of shrapnel flying to a soldier's head. The helmet may protect them from some flying piece of rock, but the weight of the helmet on the head can still be an issue. It is like having a bell on your head and having someone hit it with a hammer. On these head injuries, the author writes, "indeed, soldiers walking away from blasts have later discovered that they suffer from memory loss, short attention spans, muddled reasoning, headaches, confusion, anxiety, depression and irritability" (60). The military calls this TBI for Traumatic Brain Injury.

The article goes on to point out that the larger issue is not the immediate care of wounded soldiers, which is important, but the long term care of them as veterans once they leave active duty. The problem will come as they need long term care, and they have to go through the VA to get their care. The article then describes how the VA is currently severly underfunded, not even able to care for current veterans, which means it is nowhere near to being ready to handle a flood of Iraq veterans. The conluding line of the article is the part that wrenched my heart.

"Ultimately, if the Bush Administration continues its refusal to accept the realities of this conflict, the most enduring images of the Iraq war will be the sight of legless and addled beggars on our street corners holding cardboard signs that read: IRAQ VET. HUNGR AND HOMELESS. PLEASE HELP."

I just find such a situation terrible. Young men and women are sent to fight wars for this country. In a volunteer army, they volunteer to serve their country, and the least this country should do, especially those in power who sent them to war, is to take good care of those who were wounded serving their country. The situation is grim, and it does not look like it will get better unless those in power get serious about providing decent, dignified, and adequate care to the veterans who fought for their country.

A quick look at the news will reveal information about how the VA has been underfunded and will continue to do so. All I did was do a Google News Search, typing something as simple as "VA underfunded" with results here.

This kind of reminded me of that line that Sylvester Stallone, playing the character of John Rambo, says at the end of the second film when Colonel Trautman, played by Richard Crenna, asks Rambo not to hate his country. When Rambo replies he would die for it, the Colonel then asks him what he wants. Rambo replies, "I want, what they want, and every other guy who came over here and spilled his guts and gave everything he had, wants! For our country to love us as much as we love it! That's what I want!" Readers can find the quote here through Internet Movie Database.In the end, I don't think America's veterans are asking for much, considering how much they gave their country. Just something to think about.

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