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10 Hard Truths About War for Veterans Day (and Every Other Day)

As we celebrate our veterans, we need to remember some realities that the public is barely aware of, but veterans know only too well.

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RAC identified in particular a class of neurotoxins found in experimental anti-nerve gas pills that troops were forced to take upon threat of court martial, pesticides and sarin gas, which plumed for hundreds of miles when Iraq munition storage facilities known to contain nerve gas were exploded. RAC did not rule out vaccines or depleted uranium, pioneered during the Gulf War for its ability to penetrate most anything. Yet the RAC report's recommendations for immediate interventions and programs have not been followed, but rather remain the subject of further study by the Institute of Medicine.

3) Veterans of ongoing fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered a variety of physical traumas beyond the widespread maiming and loss of limbs. Last year, the DoD warned that as many as 20 percent of veterans (360,000) may have suffered traumatic brain injury from IED blasts. Blast injuries generally do not result in skull fractures or loss of consciousness, yet the Institute of Medicine has reported that these traumatic brain injuries may cause diffuse brain bleeding and result in PTSD and problems with mood, concentration, memory, pain, balance, hearing and vision.

In addition, veterans have suffered multiple toxic exposures, including contaminated water, and dioxin and other carcinogenic compounds from the widespread use of burn pits instead of incinerators in Iraq and Afghanistan. Everything from refrigerators to trucks to body parts has been reported burning in the vast pits, which spew black smoke for miles and cause the black phlegm known as “Iraq crud.” Several class action suits have been filed against contractors like KBR on behalf of veterans sickened by toxic exposure.

4) On any given night, more than 200,000 veterans are homeless, and 1.5 million veterans are considered at risk for homelessness. Because of lack of work, support networks and substandard housing, veterans without homes have served in every war with surviving populations--World War II, the Korean War, the Cold War, Vietnam, Grenada, Panama, Lebanon, the 1991 Gulf War, Afghanistan and Iraq.

Vietnam veterans have long comprised the largest portion of the homeless veteran population, but veterans of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have become homeless much sooner than veterans of the Vietnam War did. PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) can cause severe psychiatric symptoms from mood disorders to depression, aggressive and dangerous behaviors, substance abuse and alcoholism. In addition to psychiatric, neurological and physical injury, multiple deployments, the high cost of housing, reduced job opportunities, and low wages endanger family stability, employability and maintaining a steady residence.

5) The population of homeless women has skyrocketed from 5 to 20 percent over the last decade as more women are deployed into battle. Women veterans are two to four times more likely than non-veteran women to be homeless. Approximately 40 percent of homeless female veterans of today's wars report being sexually assaulted by male soldiers while in service, with sexual abuse being a major risk factor for homeless according to the VA Homeless Programs director. Fifty-six percent of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic, despite being only 12.8 percent and 15.4 percent of the population, respectively.

6) According to VA figures gathered by the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense through FOIA, almost 600,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are patients in the VA system. Thousands more wait as much as a year for VA treatment for serious ailments including traumatic brain injury. Forty-eight percent (243,685) are mental health patients and 28 percent (143,530) are being treated for PTSD. A recent internal VA memo revealed systematic gaming of the VA application process, whereby bureaucrats at facilities seek to improve access data by denying treatment.

 
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