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The Military Industrial Complex and the "Extra Casualties" Of War
By Mia Austin-Scoggins
In the major American 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, 4457 uniformed dead.
In Afghanistan, 1594 killed.
To date, 650,000 Iraq / Afghanistan vets .treated in VA facilities. (Bilmes, p.1)
There were several smaller wars that we'll have to skip over here due to space constraints. But the above numbers representsubstantial losses, and we grieve for all of them.
Yet they are not the whole story of the human cost of the US wars that is the ultimate product of what is called the Military Industrial Complex. 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 Military Industrial Complex that has made them. It is these extra casualties that we want to talk about today.
President Eisenhower noted, in his 1961 Farewell Address:
"Now this conjunction of an immense military establishment and a large arms industry is new in the American experience. The total influence – economic, political, even spiritual – is felt in every city, every statehouse, every office of the Federal government… we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military industrial complex. . ."
Even as the departing president named it, the MIC was becoming well-entrenched, and its impact and influence has since become pervasive, and apparently permanent. One of the "grave implications" of its ascendance, we contend, is a double-edged one: that its wars produce a high level of "Extra Casualties" – lives damaged and destroyed by its wars that dwarf the official casualty numbers – accompanied at the same time by a low level of public awareness of them, and the true extent of the MIC's domestic human and financial cost.
The Vietnam War, August 4, 1964 to January 27, 1973, was both our longest, and the most unpopular war in United States history. The financial cost of the war, to the United States, was $150 billion.
Beginning in 1961, pesticide and herbicide spraying were commonly used to defoliate plant life and to destroy food sources. Tens of millions of gallons of the herbicide "Agent Orange," whose major toxic component was Dioxin, were sprayed across the countryside, More than 200,000 soldiers were exposed to it. A half-century later, the "sprayed and betrayed" troops have suffered illnesses, often fatal, related, they assert, to that exposure. Their children and grandchildren have higher rates of birth defects. Their, and their families', struggle for recognition, treatment, and compensation for Agent-Orange related conditions, continues. And in Vietnam, the deaths, birth defects and other deformities it has caused among the civilian population there runs into the hundreds of thousands, and its effects continue, almost two generations after August 10, 1961. (Quaker House)
In 2010, the VA estimated that 200,000 or more Vietnam veterans were still afflicted by the aftereffects of Agent Orange. (VA 2010)
In 1980, the DSM III (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders), identified and added to its roster of combat - related mental trauma, "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder", or PTSD. (Wikipedia)
Another major study showed that fifteen per cent of Vietnam veterans, almost half a million, had been diagnosed with PTSD by 1988. A later analysis put the figure at over fifty per cent or over a million.
"Soldier's Heart", "Shell Shock" "War Neurosis", "Battle Trauma", "Post Traumatic Stress Disorder"…war's deadly doppelganger hitched a ride on the first war wagon and has never gotten off.
Jonathan Shay, author of Achilles in Vietnam, rightly noted that the war-induced trauma now identified as PTSD, "is a legitimate war wound and the veterans who suffer its injury carry the burdens of sacrifice for the rest of us as surely as the amputees, the burned, the blind, and the paralyzed carry them." (Coleman, p.19)
PTSD can cause severe psychiatric symptoms, including mood disorders, depression, dangerous or aggressive behaviors, substance abuse, and alcoholism. As many of us know, PTSD takes prisoner not only the individuals who suffer it, but the people, and the society at large, who interact with them. Nearly 40 years after the 1973 cease-fire, many veterans are "Still In Saigon". These "Extra Casualties", and those who love them, are lifelong "prisoners of war".
Given this complex set of problems, it was predictable that numerous studies would point to much higher rates of suicide among these veterans 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. (Hearst, et al; pp. 620 - 624)
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 move-ment or noise will make me jump."
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 and auto immune disease among Vietnam-era veterans to the development of auto-immune disorders such as lupus and psoriasis (Boscarino, p.2) 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.
Altogether, Agent Orange, PTSD and suicide add at least another 800,000 "Extra Casualties" to the toll of the Vietnam war.
Along that dead-end road, there are many who experience homelessness. 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. Nine per cent (1054) of the people counted were veterans. (NCCEH 2010)
Further, among the more than one hundred thousand veterans who are homeless on any given night, credible estimates are that sixty per cent of them served in Vietnam or before. (National Coalition for Homeless Veterans)
In addition, rates of alcohol and drug abuse are also higher, as are rates of divorce and family abuse. Moreover, a 2004 survey found that of the 140,000 veterans serving time in federal or state prisons, fully half were of the Vietnam generation.(NCHV)
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.
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. In 2008, the Gulf War Research Advisory Committee reported that wartime toxins, not stress, caused profound physical illness in almost 300,000 veterans of the Gulf War. (Eisenberg/VCS,p.2)
And to these 300,000 soldiers, there again must be added many hundred thousand more family members.
Since 2001's declaration of "War on Terror", over two million service members have been to the wars, and returned. Nearly 50% of returning troops will be eligible for some level of disability compensation. Economist and Nobel Laureate, Joseph E. Stiglitz, estimates that future disability payments and health care costs will total S600-$900 billion. (Stiglitz,, p.1)
Caregivers of veterans with service-related illness or injuries can be beggared by the "cost of war" in a myriad of ways. The National Alliance for Caregiving and the United Health Foundation reports that 96 per cent per cent of veterans' care-givers are women. The youngest veterans requiring care served in Iraq or Afghanistan. Approximately one quarter of these youngest veterans are being cared for by their parents. Caregivers 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?
Veterans with disabling 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 soldier with very serious, disabling wounds, soldiers who would have died from similar wounds in Vietnam. Many such survivors, however, require extensive and ongoing care, often for life.
Dr. Ronald J. Glasser, an Army surgeon during the Vietnam war, and author ofWounded: 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." (Harper's, p.5)
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, near Quaker House, Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune have seen a sad series of shocking, highly-publicized domestic violence cases in the years of the "War On Terror." As for instance the summer of 2002, when there were seven domestic murders and suicides involving Afghan-istan veterans and their spouses. 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 two military posts are by no means exceptional.
In 2004, a North Carolina child protection group analyzed sixteen years 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 childhomicide rates were consistently twice as high. Onslow County is home to Camp Lejeune; Cumberland County hosts Fort Bragg. (NC Child Advocacy Institute, 2004)
Events in North Carolina are a microcosm of what is happening across the United States. Brown University's Eisenhower Research Project on "The Costs of War" notes that:
More than two million children have been affected by one (or both) parents' (often multiple) deployments. As many as one half million of those children may have become clinically depressed. Nationally, rates of child abuse has been three times higher in homes from which a parent is deployed. Partner abuse rates are up 177 % in Army families since 2003. (Lutz, et. al., 2011)
Then there is the matter of suicide. It is well-known that in 2009 and 2010, many more GIs killed themselves than were killed in combat. At Fort Campbell in Kentucky, there was a soldier suicide per week for the first four months of 2010.
The protracted wars have also provoked a spike in suicides among older veterans as well, in a kind of collective flashback.
The Veterans Administration reported in 2010 that eighteen veterans were committing suicide every day, and its suicide prevention hotline was fielding an average of ten thousand calls per month. (Maze)
Veterans for Common Sense released new suicide-related statistics in September, as part of National Suicide Prevention Week. VCS Executive Director, Paul Sullivan, cited troubling statistics from the VA's Crisis Hotline. As of 31 July, 2011, the VA's Crisis Line had received 259,000 calls from veterans, and 6,030 calls from active duty service members. There were 16,855 "rescues" of veterans and service members. (Veterans for Common Sense, p.1)
Still, as the war in Afghanistan enters its 10th year, and the war in Iraq inters its 21st year, the suicide epidemic is a sad legacy of those wars. Untreated PTSD is a serious issue for veterans, service members, and their families. Repeated deployments, lengthy waits to see doctors, and discrimination against those seeking health care, increase he "Extra Casualty" count. As of this month, September, 2011, some 850,000 veterans are waiting an average of five months for a disability claim decision from VA. Another 250, veterans are waiting an average of four more years for a claim decision appeal. 10,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seek VA medical care each month. (VCS, p.2)
There is the issue of crime: at Fort Carson in Colorado, a ring of combat-hardened soldiers formed a deadly gang, murdering, raping and robbing dozens of victims. (Frontline). Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Washington state, was named by independent news source, Stars and Stripes , as the most troubled in the military, thanks to an "incredible" number of incidents rooted in PTSD, says Joseph Carter, a former Army sergeant. Incidents include a sergeant who murdeded his wife, after returning home from his third deployment in Iraq. Another soldier was convicted of waterboarding his 3-year-old daughter because she did not know her ABC's. The Afghan Kill Team, which perpetrated a three-month spree of wanton killing and violence against innocent Afghan civilians, was also from Lewis-McChord. (Daily Beast p.1, p.2)
We must speak 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, upon members of, the military. "The military is a predatory organization," said Col. Wright. She notes that only eight per cent of the military sexual assault cases are brought to trial. Men are vulnerable to rape and assault, as well. In 2007, 10 per cent of rapes reported by the Army, were of men. (Wright,A.)
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 FOIA requests seeking government records documenting incidents of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment in the military.(SWAN/VCS, P.1)
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is particularly widespread among servicewomen. Many find the return to civilian life a struggle, after suffering sexual assault while serving. 40 per cent of homeless women veterans have been sexually assaulted while serving in the armed forces.
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 inhumane "surge."
This tally adds not less than 1,500,000 to the grim roster, plus probably as many family members to the toll.
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. The hearing was held to discuss the "true cost of war".
When their book, The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq War, was published in 2008, many argued that Stiglitz and Bilmes had overestimated the cost of the war in Iraq. Two years later, the economists revised their estimated cost of the war to between $4 and $6 trillion.
Today, in 2011, Dr. Stiglitz and Ms. Bilmes estimate that "social costs" to veterans of Iraq / Afghanistan will be higher than their 2008 estimate of between $295 and $400 billion. 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.
In his January 17, 1961 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.
At that time, Ike's prescience made his caveat a cautionary tale. In 2011, the tally of "Extra Casualties" across fifty years, renders his warning a manifesto.
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