Mzansi Afrika

From Johannesburg South Africa, a window on the world

Monday, July 04, 2005

The reality of war

"Several thousand soldiers have been wounded in action in Iraq. Thousands of others have been injured in war related events. They have lost arms, legs, eyes, ears, pieces of their brains. Some will spend the rest of their lives in wheelchairs. These soldiers -- all volunteer warriors - have returned home to heal their wounds and consider life, forever scarred and changed." (Source)

Over the week-end I watched the movie Born on the Fourth July. I first saw it years ago on circuit, but it was really interesting to see it again, particularly because one can't help drawing parallels between the film, and the current situation in Iraq. Briefly, the movie is based on the true experiences of a Vietnam war veteran who is paralysed from below the waist down due to his war injuries. Upon his return to the US, he became victim to neglect in the veteran medical care system which suffered at the time from budgetary cutbacks. The movie then chronicles his life as moves from proud patriot, to disillusionment, and finally becomes an anti-war activist, all the while trying to deal with the symptoms of post traumatic stress syndrome.

The film got me wondering what the current situation is like concerning veterans returning from the present Iraqi war, especially those vets suffering from dehabilitating wounds. What I managed to find out, is that although America seems to be taking better care of it's vets now than it did after Vietnam, it is not doing all it could, and all it should be doing to help those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for their country.


Jeremy, 24, a Seargent and Army Ranger from the 3rd Battalion, 75th Regiment was injured April 3, defending the Hadithah Dam and awarded the purple heart and bronze star with valor. He is completely blind, his brain is held together with titanium plates, he suffers seizures and some brain damage. He sees nothing but darkness.

According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, "The Senate got into a bipartisan snit over funding for veterans this week, Republicans and Democrats both raising alarms over a $1 billion shortfall for the Department of Veterans Affairs this fiscal year. On Wednesday, the Senate approved $1.5 billion in emergency funding for the VA. But the funding issue raises questions about the VA's ability to handle an increased workload as a result of the war."

The numbers of vets requiring assistance from the VA is continuing to grow, "Since the US-led invasion of Iraq began, an average of 474 US service members a month have been wounded, injured, or become ill in the war zone. As of last week, the Defense Department put the total at 13,074. But the total number of vets who still need help is much larger than that, and it's growing. As of February, VA officials reported, 85,857 of the 360,674 veterans of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq who had separated from active duty, 24 %, had sought healthcare from the VA. This included treatment for both physical injuries and mental health problems."

Interestingly, during the wars of the 20th century, the ratio of wounded to killed in action was about 3 to 1. In Iraq that ratio is more than 9 to 1. To Bush's credit, he has hiked spending for veterans' medical care by more than 40 percent. More veterans are enrolled in healthcare services, the waiting time for care has been shortened, and the backlog of disability claims has been reduced.

However, American Social service agencies say that vets of the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts are now showing up in the country's homeless shelters. "While the numbers are still small, they're steadily rising, and raising alarms in both the homeless and veterans' communities. The concern is that these returning veterans, some of whom can't find jobs after leaving the military, others of whom are still struggling psychologically with the war, may be just the beginning of an influx of new veterans in need...Part of the reason for these new veterans' struggles is that housing costs have skyrocketed at the same time real wages have remained relatively stable, often putting rental prices out of reach. And for many, there is a gap of months, sometimes years, between when military benefits end and veterans benefits begin." (
More)

Another thing that struck me, is that wounded soldiers don't seem to be getting very much coverage in the mainstream media. Although news sites like CNN and Fox track the dead, no-one is really telling the stories of the maimed and the psychologically dysfunctional. I did find this
photo essay via one of the war vet sites.


Sam, 21, an army paratrooper and combat engineer with the 82nd Airborne Division, was gravely injured May 18 in Baghdad when a bomb blew up during a munitions disposal operation.


These are the people that pay the ultimate sacrifice, the cannon fodder of empire.

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