US veteran population, a mounting social catastrophe

Published on WSWS, by Naomi Spencer, 20 November 2007.

As thousands of troops from Iraq and Afghanistan return to the US, the dimensions of the social burden of war are beginning to take shape. A number of recent reports highlight the toll colonial occupation has taken on the physical and mental health of military personnel, as well as the lack of US government medical and financial assistance awaiting them on their return.

Incidence of veteran suicide, homelessness, drug addiction, incarceration, severe poverty, unmanaged mental illness, and the redeployment of mentally unstable troops all point to a growing social crisis faced by returning soldiers and a military on the verge of collapse.

More than 3,860 US troops have been killed in Iraq, and well over 60,000 soldiers have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Because of medical and technological advances, the ratio of survivors to fatalities in the current war operations is greater than in any other war in modern history. Thousands of wounded soldiers are surviving with extremely serious injuries, and many more suffer untreated psychological and brain trauma on the battlefield.

When these soldiers return to the United States, they face long waits for medical care in overcrowded, mismanaged, and underfunded Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) facilities—or drop out of the system entirely, into all manner of social misery.

The volume of cases is overwhelming an already ill-prepared system. On November 14, Veterans for Common Sense reported that the VA admitted in court filings related to a lawsuit against it by the group that nearly 264,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans were treated in VA hospitals and clinics through October 2007. In 2008, the VA expects to treat 300,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, according to House Veterans’ Affairs Committee Chairman Bob Filer. The government estimates healthcare will cost upwards of $650 billion for veterans of the two wars.

Even conservative estimates from the military suggest an epidemic of mental trauma among new veterans. The Pentagon reported earlier this year that of the 1.6 million military personnel deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, 38 percent of Army and fully half of National Guard service members have been diagnosed with mental illness.

Incidence of traumatic brain injury, PTSD: … (full text).

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