Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Iraq War costs keep surging

Here's a really depressing article:

America won't simply be paying with its dead. The Pentagon is trying to silence economists who predict that several decades of care for the wounded will amount to an unbelievable $2.5 trillion.

The article is excellent, and worth reading in its entirety, but here's a sobering clip:

To draw attention to her academic findings, [Harvard professor and former Clinton administration economist Linda] Bilmes wrote a piece for the Los Angeles Times of 5 January 2007 in which she quoted the figure of "more than 50,000 wounded Iraq war soldiers". The reaction from the Pentagon was fury. An assistant secretary there named Dr William Winkenwerder phoned her personally to complain. Bilmes recalls: "He said, 'Where did you get those numbers from?'" She explained to Winkenwerder that the 50,000 figure came from the VA, and faxed him copies of official US government documents that proved her point. Winkenwerder backed down.

Matters did not rest there. Despite its independence from the Pentagon, the VA is run by Robert James Nicholson, a former Republican Party chairman and Bush's loyal political appointee. Following Bilmes's exchange with Winkenwerder - on 10 January, to be precise - the number of wounded listed on the VA website dropped from 50,508 to 21,649. The Bush administration had, once again, turned reality on its head to concur with its claims. "The whole thing is scary," Bilmes says. "I have never been conspiracy-minded, but watching them change the numbers on the website - it's extraordinary."

What Bilmes had discovered was that the tally of US fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan included the outcome of "non-hostile actions", most commonly vehicle accidents. But the Pentagon's statistics of the wounded did not. Even troops incapacitated for life in Iraq or Afghanistan - but not in "hostile situations" - were not being counted, although they will require exactly the same kind of medical care back home as soldiers similarly wounded in battle. Bilmes and Stiglitz had set out, meantime, to explore the ratio of wounded to deaths in previous American wars. They found that in the First World War, on average 1.8 were wounded for every fatality; in the Second World War, 1.6; in Korea, 2.8; in Vietnam, 2.6; and, in the first Gulf war in 1991, 1.2. In this war, 21st-century medical care and better armour have inflated the numbers of the wounded-but-living, leading Bilmes to an astounding conclusion: for every soldier dying in Iraq or Afghanistan today, 16 are being wounded. The Pentagon insists the figure is nearer nine - but, either way, the economic implications for the future are phenomenal.

The researchers went on to cite a series of areas where BushCo was wrong, wrong, and wrong again in their prognostications.

Meanwhile a new report was published with this disturbing finding:

Background Veterans of Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) have endured high combat stress and are eligible for 2 years of free military service–related health care through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care system, yet little is known about the burden and clinical circumstances of mental health diagnoses among OEF/OIF veterans seen at VA facilities.

Methods US veterans separated from OEF/OIF military service and first seen at VA health care facilities between September 30, 2001 (US invasion of Afghanistan), and September 30, 2005, were included. Mental health diagnoses and psychosocial problems were assessed using International Classification of Diseases, Ninth Revision, Clinical Modification codes. The prevalence and clinical circumstances of and subgroups at greatest risk for mental health disorders are described herein.

Results Of 103 788 OEF/OIF veterans seen at VA health care facilities, 25 658 (25%) received mental health diagnosis(es); 56% of whom had 2 or more distinct mental health diagnoses. Overall, 32 010 (31%) received mental health and/or psychosocial diagnoses. Mental health diagnoses were detected soon after the first VA clinic visit (median of 13 days), and most initial mental health diagnoses (60%) were made in nonmental health clinics, mostly primary care settings. The youngest group of OEF/OIF veterans (age, 18-24 years) were at greatest risk for receiving mental health or posttraumatic stress disorder diagnoses compared with veterans 40 years or older.

I am not at all surprised that a full one-fourth of returning vets have mental problems. I am, however, deeply appalled.


Michw37 said...

Ron, thanks for sharing these rather grim, but not surprising statistics. I am, however, very dismayed, now with a democratic majority in Congress, that a call for impeachment of this president hasn't sufaced. Only in America does a Congress censor a President for lying about sexual escapades, but allows a threat to the course of history stay in office.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for commnent here. I completely agree with this POV.

Ron West said...

FWIW, that was me making that last comment. I was curious what the anonymous tab would look like.