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“EXTRA CASUALTIES”
THE MIC’S LONG-TERM EFFECTS ON
VETERANS, FAMILIES, AND SOCIETY

By: Mia Austin-Scoggins

It is a pleasure and a privilege to be at the MIC @ 50 Conference with you at beautiful Guilford College. I want, especially, to thank Judith, Bill, and Christian, for so ably presenting us with an overview of the Military Industrial Complex, and providing a context for the presentations, panels, workshops, and discussions that we will enjoy over the weekend.

In our major wars since World War Two, by official figures, the US has lost at least 101,000 soldiers killed, and 296,000 troops wounded. Here’s the breakdown:

In Korea, 38,000 dead, 103,000 wounded.
In Vietnam, 58,000 dead, 153,000 wounded
In Desert Storm, 294 killed, 458 wounded
In Iraq, 4600 dead, 31,000 wounded (817 from NC)
In Afghanistan, 1455 dead, 9200 wounded (273 from NC)

There were several smaller wars that we’ll have to skip over due to time constraints. But 101,000 killed and 296,000 wounded are substantial losses, and we grieve for all of them.

But they are not the whole story of the human cost of the US wars that are the MIC’s ultimate product. In fact, they’re just the start.

There are tens of thousands – no, many hundreds of thousands more “extra casualties” of these wars, and the MIC that has made them. It is these extra casualties that we want to talk about this morning.

There are several kinds of these “Extra Casualties.” At the head of the sad parade are those former soldiers who return from combat seemingly okay, but develop long-term physical or psychological problems.

Take Vietnam veterans, for example. While many veterans adjusted successfully after their service, a large number of others did not. Being sprayed with Agent Orange or other toxins, for instance, adversely affected many veterans. The VA estimated in 2010 that 200,000 or more Vietnam veterans were still afflicted by its after-effects.(1) That’s not all. Another major study showed that fifteen per cent of Vietnam veterans, almost half a million, had been diagnosed with PTSD by 1988. (2) Numerous studies point to much higher rates of suicide among them than the general population. Indeed, although exact statistics are not available, it seems very likely that many more Vietnam veterans have died by their own hand since the war than the 58,000 who were killed in combat.

War’s deadly doppleganger, “Soldier’s Heart”, “Shell Shock”, “War Neurosis”, “Battle Trauma”…”Post Traumatic Stress Disorder”, “PTSD,”~ hitched a ride on the first war wagon and has never gotten off. As one veteran describes it:
“Sometimes, my head starts to replay some of my experiences in Nam. Regardless of what I’d like to think about, it comes creeping in. .. It’s old friends, the ambush, the screams, their faces, tears. …When I walk down the street, I get real uncomfortable with people behind me that I can’t see. When I sit, I feel most comfortable in the corner of a room, with walls on both sides of me. Loud noses irritate me and sudden movement or noise will make me jump.”(3)

And PTSD is about more than just bad dreams or paranoia; it has actual physical consequences. In 2007, Dr. Joseph A. Boscarino, a Vietnam veteran and senior scientist at the New York Academy of Medicine presented research linking PTSD among Vietnam – era veterans who developed auto-immune disorders such as lupus and psoriasis many years after their tours of duty.(4) There is strong correlation demonstrated between PTSD and long-term physical health problems. These include heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, heart failure, asthma, liver, and peripheral arterial disease. (5)

All together, Agent Orange, PTSD, and suicide add another million “Extra casualties” to the toll of the Vietnam war.

The North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness conducts a yearly Point-In-Time Count of NC’s homeless population. On the night of January 27, 2010, 12,157 people experiencing homelessness were counted. 9% (1054) of the people counted were veterans. (6)

Among the more than one hundred thousand veterans who are homeless on any given night, nearly half of them served in the Vietnam era. (7)

While Vietnam veterans comprise the largest portion of the homeless veteran population, veterans of the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan become homeless much sooner than did the Vietnam veterans.(8) Life on the mean streets makes it even more difficult for any homeless vet to cope and survive, much less to improve their circumstances.

It doesn’t stop there. For almost all of these troubled veterans, there is a family, which serves as a “force multiplier” to increase the number of “extra casualties” of the war machine. In addition, rates of alcohol and drug abuse are also higher, as are rates of divorce and family abuse. A 2004 survey found that of the 140,000 veterans serving time in federal or state prisons, fully half were of the Vietnam generation. (9)

For more recent wars the figures are equally staggering. We’ve already seen that from the 1991 Gulf War, the tiny official numbers of killed and wounded are dwarfed by the postwar toll by a factor of a hundred to one. And to these 300,000 soldiers, there again must be added many hundred thousand more family members.

Let’s pause here to summarize. In addition to the 101,000 combat deaths since World War Two, there have likely been as many, or perhaps more premature “Extra Casualties” deaths among the Vietnam veteran generation alone.

And besides the 296,000 official wounded in these five wars, more than that many have been debilitated by the aftermath of Desert Storm alone. Hundreds of thousands more from the Vietnam and Korean wars likewise deal with crippling war-related physical or psychological problems. And millions of families have been marked and damaged by the alcoholism, drug and other forms of abuse that are prevalent among these groups.

But when we get to the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the numbers get truly frightening. More than two million US servicemen and women have deployed to “the Sandbox,” as they derisively call it, since 2001. Most for multiple tours, some four or five times. (By contrast, one tour of twelve months was the norm for Vietnam combat duty.)

Of this number, the military’s own psychological surveys indicate that at least one in five of these troops who returns seemingly unscathed actually suffers Post-traumatic Stress Disorder and/or Traumatic Brain Injury, either of which can be disabling or life-threatening. (10)

One in five out of two million means 400,000 – and counting—whose lives have been drastically disrupted by the wars, but are not on the official casualty rolls. Further, in today’s army most of them have families, unlike Vietnam, when 90 per cent of draftees were single. The impact of these uncounted injuries reverberates among them for years too.

Veterans with mental problems, and those seriously wounded who need help with the activities of daily living, are a particular challenge. In the current wars, modern medical care is keeping alive many soldiers with very grievous, disabling wounds, soldiers who would have died from similar wounds in Vietnam. Many such survivors, however, require extensive and ongoing, often lifelong, care.

Dr. Ronald J. Glasser, an Army surgeon during the Vietnam war, and author of “Wounded: Vietnam to Iraq”, warned, in 2005, that, “The real “body count” of this war is not only our dead, but our wounded. The real risk to our troops is no longer the numbers of dead but the numbers ending up on orthopedic wards and neurosurgical units. Ultimately…the most enduring images of the Iraq war will be the sight of legless and addled beggars on our street corners holding cardboard signs that read: Iraq Vet. Hungry and Homeless. Please Help.” (11)

Caregivers of veterans with service-related illness or injuries can be beggared by the “cost of war” among these “Extra Casualties” in a myriad of ways. The National Alliance for Caregiving and the United Health Foundation reports that 96% of veterans’ caregivers are women. The youngest veterans requiring care served in OEF / OIF. Approximately one quarter of these youngest veterans are being cared for by their parents. (12)

Those who are caregivers for the seriously wounded can become highly stressed, isolated, and financially pressed. How do we put a monetary value on the loss of the life that was to be, for the ill or injured veteran? And what is the price, in quality of life, for the veteran, for the caregiver, for the family, for society? How to enter “Incalculable” on the balance sheet of the Cost of War?

Even when returning troops are physically able, the aftereffects of multiple deployments can be more than challenging for families; they can also be deadly.

In North Carolina, Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune have seen a sad series of shocking, highly-publicized domestic violence cases in these years. As for instance in the summer of 2002, when there were seven domestic murders and suicides involving Afghanistan veterans and their spouses around Fort Bragg. Or 2007-2008, when four servicewomen were murdered by their male GI spouses or boyfriends. Numerous other isolated homicide cases have occurred with less outside notice. And these nearby military posts are by no means exceptional. (13)

In 2004, a North Carolina child protection group analyzed sixteen year of records involving the murder of children by parents or step-parents. The rates of such homicides were steady across the state’s one hundred counties, with two exceptions: in Onslow and Cumberland counties, the child homicide rates were consistently twice as high. Onslow County is home to Camp Lejeune; Cumberland County hosts Fort Bragg. (14)

Then there is the matter of suicide. It is well-known that in the past year and a half, many more GIs have killed themselves than have died in combat. At Fort Campbell in Kentucky last year, there was a soldier suicide per week for the first four months of the year.

The protracted wars have also provoked a spike in suicides among older veterans, in a kind of collective flashback. The VA reported this past year that eighteen veterans were committing suicide every day, and its suicide prevention hotline was fielding an average of ten thousand calls per month. (15)

Or crime: At Fort Carson in Colorado, a ring of combat-hardened soldiers formed a deadly gang, murdering, raping and robbing dozens of victims.

And speaking of rape, we can’t pass by the plague of sexual assault. According to Col. Ann Wright, US Army (Ret.), “One in three women are raped or sexually assaulted during their military careers.” Col. Wright warns of an “epidemic” of sexual assault by members of, on members of, the military. “The military is a predatory organization,” said Col. Wright. She notes that only 8% of the military sexual assault cases are brought to trial. Men are vulnerable to rape and assault, as well. In 2007, 10% of rapes reported by the Army, were of men. (16)

In December, 2010, the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) and the ACLU filed a lawsuit with the US District Court in New Haven, Conn. against the Department of Defense and VA for their failure to respond to FOI requests seeking government records documenting incidents of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the military. (17)

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is particularly widespread among servicewomen. Many find the return to civilian life a struggle, after suffering sexual assault while serving. Forty per cent of homeless women veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving in the armed forces. (18)

Well, perhaps this is a long enough list of bad news and awful statistics. Let’s sum up and look again at this human tally of the MIC’s operation:

The official tally for troop deaths in US wars since 1950 is 101,000 killed, 296,000 wounded.

But beginning with Vietnam, we’ve seen that another million veterans, not on the official casualty list, have suffered long-term, often fatal wounds, damage that has extended to family members as well.

Out of Desert Storm there have been at least 300,000 troops who are struggling with Gulf War Syndrome. That’s an amazing number for a war whose official casualty list, for both dead and wounded, is only about 750 total.

And in our current wars, the “extra casualties” resulting from PTSD, TBI, suicides and other violence is rapidly approaching half a million more, plus families, with no end yet insight to this inhuman “surge.”

This tally adds not less than one million eight hundred thousand to the toll, plus probably as many family members to the toll.

Let’s contemplate these numbers for a moment. Including the official figures, it comes to nearly two million American soldiers’ lives deeply scarred or ended by their journey through the Military Industrial Complex. Plus as many more family members traumatized or brutalized as well.

While these figures are inexact estimates, I submit that they are all reasonable descriptions of an overshadowing reality, and the forces behind them cannot be dismissed or discounted.

The financial impact of injuries on this scale is in the trillions. On September 29, 2010, Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz, Ph.D., and Harvard economist Linda Bilmes testified before the House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs Chairman Bob Filner (D-CA), and members of the House Veterans Committee. The hearing was held to discuss the “true cost of war”.

In 2008,when their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq War, was published, Stiglitz and Bilmes were believed to have overestimated the cost of the war in Iraq. Two years later, the economists find those projections to have been “extremely conservative”. (19)

In their testimony last September, Dr. Stiglitz and Ms. Bilmes estimated that “social costs” to veterans of Iraq / Afghanistan will be higher than their 2008 estimate of between $295 and $400
billion. (20) These costs include physical illness and injury, mental trauma and debility, homelessness, unemployment, poverty, domestic violence, divorce, substance abuse, the burden of caregiving…or just a diminished quality of life.

These social costs are not included in the federal budget. The social costs are borne by the veterans, by their families, and by society. For veterans and their dependents, and for our nation, these are among the hidden costs of war. For years, for lifetimes, for generations, these “unfunded liabilities” are America’s latest “Extra Casualties” of war.

The experiences, issues, and conditions which predispose a veteran to a slipping-down life seldom exist singly. Instead, the Military Industrial Complex manifests in a malignant symbiosis of cause and effect, to further maim and destroy.
This is the Cost of War come marching home.

We are commemorating the occasion of the 50th Anniversary of President Eisenhower’s Farewell Address with a forum to “ shine a light“ on the Military Industrial Complex.

In his Farewell Address, President Eisenhower warned, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex.” In 1961, Ike’s prescience rendered his speech a cautionary tale.
And today, the litany of “Extra Casualties” renders his warning a manifesto.



References

  1. Elizabeth Larson (2010)

Vietnam Veterans Benefit From New Agent Orange Rules
Retrieved 1/6/2011 from
http://www.lakeconews.com/content/view/16832/9191

  1. Randolph Parker (2005)

How Many Troops Returning From Iraq Will Suffer Mental Disabilities?
Retrieved 1/3/2011 from
http://www.parapundit.com/archives/002860.html

  1. Jim Goodwin, Psy.D (2010)

The Etiology of Combat – Related Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders
Retrieved 1/3/2011 from
http://www.ptsdsupport.net/combat.html

  1. Joseph A. Boscarino, Ph.D, M.P.H. (2003)

Vietnam Veterans Who Have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder More Likely To Suffer from Auto-Immune Disease
Retrieved 1/3/2011 from
http://www.207.97.238.132/news/1129.html

  1. Beth Cohen, et. al. (2010)

Association of Cardiovascular risk factors with mental health diagnosis in Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans using VA health care, JAMA 302(5): 489 - 492
Retrieved 1/1/2011 from
http://www.veteranshouse.gov/hearings/Testimony_Print.aspx?newsrd=632&Name=_Linda_J._Bilmes

  1. North Carolina Coalition to End Homelessness (2010)

North Carolina 2010 Point-In-Time Count
Retrieved 1/4/2011 from
http://www.ncch.org/attachments/contentmanagers/825/Statewide_PIT_Fact_Sheet_2010.pdf

  1. National Coalition for Homeless Veterans (2010)

FAQ About Homeless Veterans
Retrieved 1/1/2011 from
http://www.nchv.org/background.cfm#questions


  1. Nora Eisenberg (2010)

10 Hard Truths About War for Veterans Day and Every Other Day
Retrieved 1/4/2011 from
http://www.alternate.org/world/148818/10_hard_truths_about_war_for_veterans_day_and_every_other_day.html

  1. Drug Policy Alliance (2009)

Healing a Broken System: Veterans Battling Addiction and Incarceration
Retrieved 1/1/2011 from
http://www.drugpolicy.org/doc/Uploads/DPA_IssueBrief_Veterans.pdf

  1. Hannah Fischer (2010) CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE REPORT FOR CONGRESS US MILITARY CASUALTY STATISTICS: OND, OIF & OEF

Rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury and Amputation
Retrieved 1/1/2011 from
http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/hs22452.pdf

  1. Ronald J. Glasser, MD (2005)

A war of disabilities: Iraq’s hidden costs of war are coming home
HARPER’S MAGAZINE (8/12/2005)
Retrieved 1/5/2011 from
http://www.USLABORAGAINSTWAR.ORG/ARTICLE.PHP?ID=8862

  1. Billy Hhendrick (2010) WEBMD

Veteran’s caregiving often falls to spouse
Retrieved 1/4/2011 from
http://www.womenwebmd.com/news/20101109/veterans_caregiving_often_falls_to_spouse

  1. Chuck Fager (2008)

Struggling to End Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault in the Military
Retrieved 1/1/2011 from
http://www.quakerhouse.blogspot.com/2008/10/struggling_to_end_domestic_violence.html

  1. Marcia E. Herman-Giddens, PA, DrPH, and Thomas J. Vitaglione, MPH, (2005)

Child Abuse Homocides: A Special Problem Within North Carolina’s Military Families
Retrieved 1/5/2011 from
http://www.alternate.org/world/148818/10_hard_truths_about_war_for_veterans_day_and_every_other_day.html


  1. Nora Eisenberg (2010)

10 Hard Truths About War for Veterans Day and Every Other Day
Retrieved 1/4/2011 from
http://www.alternate.org/world/148818/10_hard_truths_about_war_for_veterans_day_and_every_other_day.html

  1. Col. Ann Wright, US Army (Ret.) with Ann Wright (2009)

Military Women; 1in 3 are Raped
Retrieved 1/4/2011 from
http://www.usmvaw.com/media/ann_wright

  1. VETERANS FOR COMMON SENSE / Service Women’s Action Network (2010)

SWAN and ACLU file Lawsuit Seeking Military Sexual Trauma Records Withheld by Federal Government
Retrieved 1/4/2011 from
http://www.veteransforcommonsense.org/index/php/civil_liberties/2040_swan

  1. Eisenberg, Nora (2010)

  1. Stiglitz, Joseph E. and Bilmes, Linda J. TESTIMONY BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON VETERANS AFFAIRS (2010)

Statement of Linda J. Bilmes
Retrieved 11/18/2010 from
http://www.veterans.house.gov/hearings/Testimony_Print.aspx?newsid=632&Name=Linda_J._Bilmes

  1. Ibid