Image ‘Copyleft’ by Carlos Latuff

500,000 GIs suffer from ‘invisible’ wounds: End the war, fund health care, veterans groups say
By Marilyn Bechtel
As the fifth anniversary of the Iraq war approaches, a rising tide of soldiers and veterans suffering psychological injuries is being adding to the nearly 4,000 U.S. soldiers who have died in the war and the tens of thousands officially counted as physically wounded in action.

“Rates of mental health problems among new veterans are high and rising,” Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) said in its January 2008 issue paper, “Mental Health Injuries: The Invisible Wounds of War.” With 1.5 million service personnel having served in Iraq or Afghanistan and one in three vets expected to suffer serious psychological problems including depression, anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), IAVA says about 500,000 men and women are coming home with combat-related psychological injuries.

In addition, up to 300,000 Iraq vets have suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI) which may not have outward signs and may be hard to distinguish from psychological injury.

The toll on troops and their families is severe. The Army recently released figures showing that about five soldiers attempt suicide each day, up from one per day before the Iraq war started. According to IAVA, one fifth of married soldiers in Iraq say they are planning a divorce, and at least 40,000 Iraq and Afghanistan vets have been treated for substance abuse.

Army figures show soldiers serving multiple deployments are 50 percent more likely to suffer mental health problems.

With military and veterans’ care systems increasingly overwhelmed, hundreds of thousands of wounded soldiers and veterans are now waiting months or even years to get medical help and disability compensation.

How to reverse this tide? “Well, the first thing we need to do is to stop the war, and stop creating more of this problem,” Michael McPhearson, executive director of the St. Louis-based Veterans for Peace and veteran of the first Gulf War, said in a telephone interview.

Though care for returning soldiers and veterans has never been adequate, McPhearson said, the Bush administration failed to anticipate both the length of the war and the types of injuries it would bring.

“Then, because they didn’t do any planning,” he said, “the war is costing a lot more than they expected. So they are looking for ways to not spend as much money on other aspects such as health care for veterans.” He cited the lack of mental health providers as an acute problem.

McPhearson urged people around the country “to get involved locally with the issue,” so they can help work on specific problems in their areas. “People at the vets center here are very concerned about what’s happening with veterans, but they don’t have enough resources to deal with the problems,” he said, adding that veterans themselves often aren’t given complete information on help that’s available to them.

“Soldiers don’t know the rules of the Veterans Administration, so if it gets too hard and there’s no one to talk them through it and explain the benefits, they just say ‘forget it,’” said Eli PaintedCrow, who retired as a Sergeant First Class after 22 years in the Army, including service in Iraq.

PaintedCrow, a member of the Yaqui Nation and lives in California’s Central Valley, said the large number of soldiers who return home to rural areas face long travel times to reach veterans’ services and programs in the cities.

Ten percent of soldiers deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan are women, among them some 16,000 single mothers. “So here you are in a small town trying to get to the vet center, and you have kids,” PaintedCrow said. “Who’s helping them with their children, and who’s helping them with their PTSD or other problems while they’re trying to deal with their children? Communities need to build something around that,” she said. “We can’t wait for the VA.”

Soldiers of color, both men and women, also face constant problems with racism, she said, citing her own experience with a white female commander who told Black and Brown soldiers under her command that if they trained their white replacements satisfactorily, they could serve as their assistants.

Both McPhearson and PaintedCrow emphasized the special problems faced by women soldiers who experience sexual harassment only to find that their charges are disregarded or covered over.

PaintedCrow said the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN), which she helped to co-found, emphasizes “opening a door” for women soldiers to connect and “heal the wound that’s inside.” Many of its leaders are “women of color, lesbian women, women who feel a disconnect everywhere else,” she said. “This is not based on rank or where you served, it is based on who you are as a woman, what is important to you and how we can validate and support that.”

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America has set out a far-reaching legislative program to address many of the problems faced by returning vets, including guaranteeing “thorough and confidential” mental health and TBI screening for all troops before and after a combat tour, fully funding VA health care, overhauling the military and veterans disability system and enacting a “modernized World War II-style GI bill” of education benefits for returning soldiers.



  1. robertsgt40 said,

    March 17, 2008 at 15:25

    And we haven’t even touched on depleted uranium!

  2. March 19, 2008 at 13:48

    Bob Woodruff and his wife Lee spoke in Rye, NY yesterday about his own traumatic brain injuries and their efforts to try to get better health care and rehabilitation to similarly injured troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan. Lee Woodruff had a lot to say about the soldiers she’s seen in VA hospitals, and that TBIs are the defining injury of this combat experience. You can hear some audio clips of the event at

  3. July 20, 2008 at 17:52

    The psychological rate and mental health problems
    attributed to the current police actions amazes me with great concern as being more attributed to our nations political aspirations of creating a socialist state than an actual health crisis.
    Of course when people return to America from a conflict and find their self being locked out of our system in a vast political movement
    they in turn begin looking for programs of social welfare out of self preservation. When they do so they are frequently referred to a program of psychiatry to qualify for these existing programs. In other words , when these veterans seek social assistance their being forced into programs of psychology which is what accounts for these high calculations.
    I find it bizarre that comparative to the amount of criminals on parole and sex predators working in America that are culture find our veterans to be
    so repugnant that millions of them can’t find employment and are living in the street. Such a massive and coordinated national effort could only be seen as a political movement against our veterans and similar in the same political action taken against our Vietnam Veterans after they returned home to America. They too were barraged with the same kind of programs of psychiatry while seeking social assistance from a program of genocide so it appeared. Locking non combatant veterans out of the system and watching them starve to death on the street while attacking them and labeling them as war criminals was hardly an action of democracy.
    Taking into consideration that a Black Operational government was inserted our government that was created from Electronic and Psychological warfare experiments in Vietnam so as to play mind fucking games on people to dictate sociology and that a System To Delete The Need For war was signed into the executive to protect a secret society and their families from having to participate in war , it appears conclusive that our veterans have been and continue to be our nations Jews and sub humans. ( All The Presidents Men – Un Censored Warner Editions – Army – CIA – Black Ops )
    The Army’s continued collusion with this ideology seems to be no more than
    a effort to support our nations reward program for homosexuality and a effort to support our nations homosexual agenda. Why would the Army support such opinions considering that many of these very same people could find their self in a warfare environment. Then when you consider the fact that these people aren’t being treated in the Army for Psychiatric problems and that most of the psychiatric problems only manifest from soldiers seeking social refuge ,it remains a mystery why our government hates the very people that serve and protect their nation.

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