Wounded Soldiers: They Didn't Know What They Were Getting Into
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They lodged in my memory. Unable to forget them, almost a year later, when I was officially not a nosy journalist but a research fellow at a leading university, I again applied for permission to embed in the military. This time, I asked to follow casualties from that high desert “battle space” to the trauma hospital at Bagram Air Base, onto a C-17 with the medical teams that accompanied the wounded soldiers to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany -- the biggest American hospital outside the United States -- then back onto a C-17 to Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, and in some cases, all the way home.
Over the years, more and more of America’s kids made that medevac journey back to the States. Costsofwar.com has tallied 106,000 Americans wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan or evacuated from those war zones because of accident or disease. Because so many so-called “invisible wounds” are not diagnosed until after soldiers return home, the true number of wounded must be much higher. Witness the fact that, as of June 2012, 247,000 veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq had been diagnosed by the VA with post-traumatic stress disorder, and as of May 31, 2012, more than 745,000 veterans of those wars had filed disability claims with the Veterans Administration (VA). Taxpayers have already spent$135 billion on medical and disability payments for the veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, and the long-term medical and disability costs are expected to peak at about midcentury, at an estimated $754 billion.
Then there were the “fallen,” the dead, shipped to Dover Air Base in metal “transfer cases” aboard standard cargo planes. They were transferred to the official military mortuary in ceremonies from which the media, and thus the public, were until 2009 excluded -- at least 6,656 of them from Iraq and Afghanistan by February of this year. At least 3,000 private contractors have also been killed in both wars. Add to this list the toll of post-deployment suicides, and soldiers or veterans hooked on addictive opioids pushed by Big Pharma and prescribed by military doctors or VA psychiatrists either to keep them on the job or, after they break down, to “cure” them of their war experiences.
The first veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq returned to the United States 10 years ago in 2003, yet I’ve never spoken to a damaged soldier or a soldier’s family members who thought the care he or she received from the Veterans Administration was anything like appropriate or enough. By the VA’s own admission, the time it takes to reach a decision on a veteran’s benefits, or simply to offer an appointment, is so long that some vets die while waiting.
So it is that, since their return, untold numbers of soldiers have been looked after by their parents. I visited a home on the Great Plains where a veteran has lain in his childhood bed, in his mother’s care, for most of the last decade, and another home in New England where a veteran spent the last evening before he took his own life sitting on his father’s lap.
As I followed the sad trail of damaged veterans to write my new book, They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars -- the Untold Story, I came to see how much they and their families have suffered, like Afghans, from the delusions of this nation’s leaders -- many running counter to international law -- and of other influential Americans, in and out of the military, more powerful and less accountable than themselves.