Tallying up the human costs of war
It’s been five years since the United States began war in Iraq and seven years in Afghanistan. Yet according to a survey recently released by the Pew Research Center, more than one-quarter of the American public — 28 percent, to be exact — is unaware that nearly 4,000 U.S. troops have died in Iraq over the past five years.
No matter what the reason, there is a disconnect among the people of the United States and the impact of the wars our nation is waging, both here and abroad. The numbers are startling. According to the latest government statistics, 4,458 U.S. troops have died and 68,529 U.S. troops have been wounded, injured or become sick while in either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Locally, the state Department of Veterans’ Services reports that a total of 78 troops with ties to Massachusetts have died in Iraq, and 15 have died in Afghanistan.
The number of the dead is low in comparison to Vietnam, where 60,000 U.S. troops were killed or went missing. However, according to The Associated Press, about 15 troops are wounded for every fatality during the current conflicts. This is five times the injury rate of troops who fought in Vietnam.
Dr. Gerald Cross of the federal Veterans Health Administration recently testified that there are 300,000 veterans of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan treated at Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals, and that more than half are treated for serious mental health conditions. Post-traumatic stress disorder accounts for 68,000 cases.
According to VA research obtained in February by The Associated Press, 144 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan committed suicide from 2001 through the end of 2005. Statistics from 2006 and 2007 are not yet available. In addition, almost 300,000, or about one in four, of the nation’s homeless are veterans. Locally, 662 new veterans have joined the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans this past year, many bearing the signs of trauma from the current wars.
At a time when the health care of troops should be a priority, the Bush administration has requested cuts to the VA. Pressure imposed by important organizations such as Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, VoteVets.org, Disabled Veterans of America and others have impacted the Senate Budget Committee. Members of the Committee have passed a budget resolution for fiscal year 2009 that will include $3.2 billion above the current administration’s request for veterans’ programs, and will serve as a blueprint as Congress works to draft the fiscal year 2009 VA appropriations bill.
The return to civilian life for U.S. soldiers deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan is full of pitfalls, with an unemployment rate three times the national average, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Educational opportunities are limited for the returning veterans. Despite the promises of commercials and military recruiters, today the most a veteran can receive is approximately $9,600 a year for four years of college. That doesn’t come close to covering tuition and fees at most institutions of higher learning.
Because of federal budget cuts, promises have been broken to veterans who wanted to start their own businesses. Earlier this month, the Small Business Administration had to eliminate its center in Lawrence, and two other centers in Michigan and Missouri had funds reduced, according to published reports. Over the past two years, the Lawrence-based center had assisted 3,000 veterans to improve or launch small businesses.
But while budget cuts are eliminating domestic programs, the costs of the war continue to escalate. At last count, the cost had reached $456 billion, and it is still climbing.
Taxpayers in Massachusetts have paid an estimated $14.8 billion for the Iraq war thus far. To put that in perspective: For the same amount of money, 4,424,982 people could have received health care, 51,282 people could have received affordable housing, or 289,632 public safety officers could have been paid to patrol communities.
This piece attempts to communicate information on the costs of war borne both by the troops and local communities. This piece is also a plea for each man, woman and young person to research current events and facts, rather than just accepting “breaking news” as the only relevant and important information.
All government offices and Web sites listed throughout this article are accessible via the Internet. For the many who are impacted by the digital divide, the Boston Public Library makes computers available at no cost to those who do not otherwise have access.
Mélida Arredondo lives in Boston. Her family suffered the loss of her stepson Alexander Scott Arredondo when he was killed as a U.S. Marine on Aug. 25, 2004, at the age of 20. Mélida and her husband Carlos are peace and justice activists, and supporters of anti-violence efforts within the City of Boston.