Sunday, November 19, 2006

Need for Congressional Hearings on US Casualties

The Bush Administration has spent so much time sweeping inconvenients facts into dark corners where the American public isn't likely to notice them that one of the first things that should be considered by the new Congress are informational hearings on the human consequences of Bush's war in Iraq, a war that we now know was optional. We need hearings on an essential question: what have been the full consequences to our troops and the consequences to American civilians who have served in Iraq?

Here's an article by Moni Basu of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on the considerable number of brains injuries our troops are suffering:
In previous wars, 14 to 20 percent of wounded soldiers suffered traumatic brain injury, according to the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center. The center, funded by the Department of Defense, estimates the numbers are much higher in Iraq. In a study conducted at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, which serves more critically injured soldiers than most VA hospitals, doctors found that 62 percent of patients had sustained a brain injury.

(snip)

Brain-injured men and women can experience cognitive and emotional problems that keep them from fully participating in society. They can have a hard time concentrating and holding jobs and maintaining relationships.

Many have memory loss, impaired judgment, slowed ability to process information and communication difficulties. In some cases, post-combat stress symptoms, such as anxiety and depression, can be compounded by the physical damage inside their heads.

The physical ordeal includes constant pain, seizures, double vision and headaches.

Veterans for America, a Washington-based nonpartisan advocacy group, estimates 10 percent of all soldiers who have served in Iraq have suffered from some form of brain injury. It says the nation is unprepared to take care of a whole new generation of soldiers coming home with an anguish that cannot be readily seen.

"Brain injury is unlike other injury in that it is lifelong," said Dr. George Zitnay, who helped found the brain injury center. "You don't just put a Band-Aid on it or give a person a pill and send them home."

If Veterans for America are correct, then at least 100,000 Americans have suffered from brain injury since over a million of our troops have cycled through Iraq in the last three and a half years.

Congressional hearings should also consider what has been happening to civilians who have served in Iraq. Here's an article by Anna Badkhen of the San Francisco Chronicle:
The war haunts [Steven Thompson] the way it haunts thousands of U.S. troops returning from their tours of duty in Iraq.

But Thompson is not an Iraq war veteran. He is a civilian truck driver, one of tens of thousands of private contractors hired to go to Iraq for fundamental support missions.

Their jobs are often as dangerous as those of combat troops. But because they are civilians, contractors are not eligible for the network of support that the Pentagon has designed to assist U.S. troops suffering from psychological trauma.

(snip)

No one knows how many of them have been injured and killed. No one keeps track of how many contractors there are in Iraq. And when they come back, many find themselves abandoned.

(snip)

Although no U.S. agency keeps track of how many civilians are employed by U.S. contractor companies in Iraq, some reports estimate the number to be in the tens of thousands of Americans, Iraqis and citizens of other countries. Mann said KBR has 50,000 workers in the Middle East.

Between March 1, 2003, and Nov. 16, 2006, at least 673 civilian contractors -- Americans and foreigners -- were killed in Iraq, according to Labor Department spokesman David James. The number is based on the amount of death claims filed by relatives and may not represent all contractor fatalities.

Think of it. There are no records of how many Americans contractors (or apparently American government employees) have served in Iraq. In fact, there is suspicion that we don't know much about the contractor system in Iraq because that involves a lot of the money that has disappeared for privatization. In addition, the Bush Administration has not been eager to reveal too much about the deaths and injuries of contract workers. Nor has it been willing to acknowledge that contractors sometimes have the same kind of psychological trauma that many of our troops do. The more we read, the more Iraq seems to have hidden costs that Americans are only now fully appreciating.

It is long past time to get some answers. Americans need to know the real cost of Bush's fiasco.

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