Sunday, April 01, 2007

Human loss and “humanity” loss ~ they both count

Sandy Cook – 3/25/07 ~ Part 1 of 3 parts
Recently I was asked to talk to a local group about the human cost of war. When first asked, the temptation was to stand up and say, “The total human cost is incalculable” and then sit down. That five seconds would have been more time spent on the subject than most Americans spend on it each week. The statement would also have been true, but just sitting down would have sacrificed an opportunity to contemplate the overwhelming impact of the current war.

There are the quantitative costs in dollars and lives. Those are the easy costs to understand – those figures are limited only by the accuracy or the truth of the reporting.
But there are also qualitative losses – losses to us and the world of large parts of our history, our present condition, and our possible future. These tangible and intangible losses are imaginable, but they are not yet calculable. These are the “humanity” costs of war, and may, in the end, be the most serious. In short, what is the total cost to the individuals fighting the war, to the government that has sent them, to the citizenry who supports them, and to the rest of the world outside the conflict?
Both the loss of life and the loss of the tangible and intangible benefits of our history and our society are truly veterans’ issues in that they reflect not just the fight, but what we fight for.

We need to talk about all of these costs, both “human” and “humanity,” because Congress isn’t. Instead, they and the administration have cut critical social budgets right and left but have been careful to fund the Sparta, NC Teapot Museum, the Waterfree Urinal Conservation Initiative, and the Blue Springs, MO campaign to fight “Goth” culture.

The numbers remain important. These are the best figures that I can find of those killed and wounded – priceless lives, whether they are Americans, Iraqis, or Afghanis:
Americans/Coalition – 66,000; Iraqis –1 ½ million; Afghanis – ¾ million; Journalists – 300; Contractors – 2,600.
As Bob Woodruff, the recently returned and sorely wounded reporter has told us, as of 6 February officially there were 23,417 wounded. Actually – those who have left DoD care and are in the care of VA = 200,000 – almost 34,000 PTSD; over 73,000 injuries; over 21,000 infections and parasitic Disease; and, almost 68,000 “undefined” illnesses.
Also officially as of 28 February there were 1,835 Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) cases. Better sources estimate “closed head injuries” as at least 10% of the 1.5M who have served, or 150,000.

The number of contractors killed is 280 higher than the official number, and has been confirmed by their employers. There is an added tragedy in the number of correspondents who have lost their lives, some at the hands of our forces, and some murdered at the hands of the opposition.
Using a “best-guess,” and “so-far” estimate, we and our partners have spent half a trillion dollars in Iraq,. Including at least 21 billion dollars that has just “disappeared”. We know that there has been more money spent than we can account for, and that the government is spending hidden – “off-the-books” – money.

In any event, and using rough numbers, had we given the head of each Iraqi family $100,000 contingent on their overthrowing Saddam Hussein, they would have a thriving economy, a still cohesive nation, the dead would be alive, AND WE WOULD HAVE SPENT EXACTLY THE SAME AMOUNT.

There are massive hidden costs, as well.
Although the VA knew in 2003 that hundreds of thousands of soldiers would be deployed to Iraq, no medical or claims-processing staff was added to handle the inevitable influx of wounded soldiers. That staff now has to be found. Thousands of wounded vets have been forced to wait years to receive rehabilitation and mental-health counseling. The VA has a backlog of at least 400,000 disability claims, and with budgets strained, officials have been turning many down. The number of soldiers approved for permanent disability payments fell by two-thirds from 2001 to 2005 in real numbers, even though the number of seriously injured soldiers soared with the Iraq war. Many of those claims will be revisited

In 2005 the hospital commander of Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany reported that 8%-10% of soldiers from the war treated there, had "psychiatric or behavioral health issues”, and so far there is no provision to cover those ultimate costs which may not surface for years.

Continued in Part 2 with more on the hidden costs.
Modified from an editorial in SOUND OFF!, the bi-monthly newsletter of Veterans United For Truth, Inc.,, a veterans’ support charity off which the author is the Vice Chair and the editor of the newsletter. Note: Sandy is a Vietnam era veteran who is devoting time to direct support of returning veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan through Veterans United for Truth..

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