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Friday, March 17, 2006

Iraq War Costs and Casualties Tallied Up

See also the comprehensive The War List: OEF/OIF Statistics

As we get closer to the 3rd anniversary of the start of the Iraq war, contributor Al Huebner of the independent Vermont Guardian tallies up some of the costs, casualties, and consequences in a commentary today. PTSD is covered. And, for those interested, economic data is found in a comprehensive paper by Linda Bilmes and Nobel laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz.

Click on 'Article Link' below tags for more...

The piece opens exploring the number and nature of the wounded.

Statistically, eight soldiers are wounded for every one killed, about double the rate in Korea, Vietnam, and the Gulf War, according to recent studies. The percentage of soldiers who have undergone amputation is twice that of our past military conflicts; nearly a quarter of all the wounded suffer from traumatic head injuries, also at a far higher rate than in other recent wars.

Later, the issue of posttraumatic stress disorder is highlighted:

The unpredictable IED attacks, protracted urban combat, and high incidence of casualties produce an elevated rate of psychological illness — one soldier in six according to a study done last year — notably post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Sufferers have harrowing flashbacks and alternate between emotional numbness and outbreaks of rage, guilt, and depression. They experience impaired memory, insomnia, and anxiety.

A recent issue of the British periodical New Scientist has pieced together new evidence on the effects of PTSD. It shows that affected veterans will pay the price of combat for decades to come. Recent and soon-to-be published research shows that those suffering from PTSD who fought in combat as diverse as Vietnam and Lebanon are twice as likely to develop cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and even cancer later in life.

Boscarino isn’t alone in his view that PTSD is a general threat to health. Last March, Yael Benyamini and colleagues at Tel Aviv University reported that among Israeli veterans of fighting in Lebanon in 1982, those who developed PTSD are now twice as likely to have high blood pressure, ulcers, and diabetes, and five times as likely to have heart disease as those who didn’t develop PTSD. According to Benyamini and his colleagues, “PTSD is the key mechanism that leads from the trauma to poorer health.”

Last year, a study by army scientists at Walter Reed Medical Center concluded that PTSD may affect as many as 18 percent of U.S. veterans from Iraq, or roughly 60,000 people given current troop levels. Timely psychological help might mitigate the problem, yet the Walter Reed group found that only a third of the Iraqi veterans with PTSD were getting help from a mental health professional a year after their return. In February, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that the Department of Veteran Affairs had not fully met any of the recommendations its own advisors had offered to ensure better treatment of PTSD.

The commentary also looks at the economic costs of the war:

What is the cost of this armed conflict? There have been several attempts since the beginning of the war in Iraq, some serious, some deceptive, to answer that question. There is no way, of course, to put a dollar value on the lives ended by the war, and of the many more destroyed by horrible injuries and crippling PTSD. Nevertheless, economists have made some estimates of the cost of the war in Iraq. White House economic adviser Lawrence Lindsey was, in effect, fired for suggesting a few years ago that the war might cost up to $200 billion rather than the $60 billion claimed by the president’s budget office. The administration’s latest claim is that nearly $400 billion has been spent since the fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq started.

Now economists Linda Bilmes and Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz have calculated a much higher price tag. They found that the total cost could be between $1-$2 trillion, depending how much longer the troops stay in Iraq. This drastically larger amount includes the money for combat operations, but also what the government will have to pay for years to come for lifetime health care and disability benefits for returning veterans and special round-the-clock medical attention for the most seriously wounded.

Read the whole piece, and then feel free to offer your thanks to the Vermont Guardian for covering veterans health issues.

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