Gray Panthers of San Francisco
February, 2006 Newsletter

War/Peace Committee Report:
Overwhelming Costs of Treating Maimed and Traumatized Iraq Vets


A recent study by Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes estimates the cost of the Iraq war at between $1-2 trillion, a huge increase from administration estimates of $100-200 billion. The difference lies in lifetime disability and health care costs for the over 16,000 injured since the war began in March of 2003. A fifth of the wounded have brain or spinal injuries. Thousands more have been sent home suffering from mental health problems, like post-traumatic stress disorder.

Inadequate armor on tanks, insufficient protective gear for soldiers on the battlefield, and, most alarming, the use of white phosphorous as a chemical weapon all will contribute to the leagues of disabled returning from Iraq. A survey of patients at Walter Reed Army Hospital in mid-2004 found that two-thirds of all soldiers wounded in Iraq suffer from traumatic brain injury, characterized by memory loss, difficulty with attention and reasoning, headaches, confusion, anxiety, irritability and depression.

The Gulf War of 1990-91 gives more idea of what to expect. By the end of 2002, huge numbers of Gulf War vets were on disability as a result of injuries sustained during that conflict—this despite massive government refusal to recognize Gulf War syndrome as one source of the problems. Former Attorney General Ramsey Clark says, “Of the 697,000 U.S. troops who served in the Gulf, over 90,000 have reported medical problems. Symptoms include respiratory, liver and kidney dysfunction, memory loss, headaches, fever, and low blood pressure. There are birth defects among their newborn children. DU [depleted uranium] is a leading suspect for a portion of these ailments….”

What sort of care will these poor souls get? The VA has been overloaded for decades and some estimate a backlog of 300,000 claims. A study done at Harvard University in 2003, (so not including Iraq war figures), found that almost 1.7 million veterans of all wars lacked health insurance, an increase of 13 percent since 2000. More than one in three vets under the age of 25 have no health insurance. Says one author of the study: “It’s particularly offensive to send people off to war and not take care of them when they come home.”

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