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Maimed in Iraq, then mistreated, neglected, and hidden in America

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  • Greg Cannon
    Maimed in Iraq, then mistreated, neglected, and hidden in America by Frederick Sweet Combat veterans wounded in Iraq were left waiting weeks and even months
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 22, 2004
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      Maimed in Iraq, then mistreated, neglected, and
      hidden in America

      by Frederick Sweet

      Combat veterans wounded in Iraq were left waiting
      weeks and even
      months for proper medical attention at military bases.
      According to
      an officer, their living conditions were so
      unacceptable for injured
      soldiers he said they "were being treated like dogs."
      Then the
      Pentagon underreported the number wounded.

      The Bush administration, referring to veterans of the
      war in Iraq,
      told a House panel that they would avoid last year's
      "mistakes" of
      leaving sick and injured troops at U.S. bases to wait
      for months to
      be properly treated by doctors. Adding insult to
      injury, Army
      Surgeon General Lt. Gen. James B. Peake told the House
      panel that
      he "was not aware" that last fall soldiers were
      waiting for medical
      care at U.S. bases and under substandard living

      Wounded "treated like dogs"

      Mark Benjamin's investigative report on Oct. 20, 2003
      for UPI,
      revealed that many wounded veterans from Iraq had to
      wait "weeks and
      months at places such as the Fort Stewart military
      base in Georgia,
      for proper medical help." They had been kept in living
      that are "unacceptable for sick and injured soldiers."
      One officer
      characterized conditions for the wounded by saying,
      "They're being
      treated like dogs."

      In January, 2004 Benjamin reported that the largest
      American troop
      rotation is now underway. Daniel Denning, assistant
      secretary of the
      Army, testified to the House Total Force Subcommittee,
      "We recognize
      that last fall, we temporarily lost sight of the
      situation. It is
      likely that during this period of force rotations,
      patient loads at
      some installations may exceed local capacity. The Army
      has developed
      a series of options to handle this surge."

      Subcommittee chairman John McHugh, R-N.Y. said, "In
      October of last
      year a series of articles revealed that many mobilized
      Reserve and
      National Guard soldiers in a medical holdover status
      felt the Army
      was not treating them as equals to their active
      counterparts. The articles described substandard
      living conditions
      at two Army posts in particular -- Fort Stewart, Ga.,
      and Fort Knox,
      Ky. Many of the ill and injured soldiers interviewed
      at these posts
      reported having to wait for long periods of time --
      sometimes weeks
      or months -- before receiving the medical care they

      More than 1,000 National Guard and Army Reserve
      soldiers at Fort
      Stewart and Fort Knox, including hundreds who had
      served in Iraq,
      had waited weeks or months in "medical hold" to be
      seen by doctors.
      At Fort Stewart in Georgia, they waited in hot
      concrete barracks
      with no air-conditioning or running water.

      Sgt. Craig Allen LaChance, a soldier who was on
      medical hold at Fort
      Stewart, told the panel that it "took months to get
      with specialists while sick and injured soldiers
      waited in what he
      said were substandard barracks. "We lived in
      deplorable conditions,"
      LaChance said. "We were made to feel like we had
      failed the Army."

      Col. Keith Armstrong, garrison commander at Fort Knox,
      told the
      congressional committee "we were stretched pretty
      thin" last fall.
      Fort Stewart Garrison Commander Col. John M. Kidd
      said, "We
      recognized that we had some difficulty here. We
      recognized that we
      had a problem with medical hold." Both commanders said
      they had
      asked for help from the Army and both described it as
      slow in coming.

      How many wounded?

      Combat deaths were accurately reported, but according
      to an article
      in July, 2003 by Editor & Publisher Online and later
      in October by
      National Public Radio, the numbers of wounded, in and
      out of battle,
      were being underreported. The news media had accepted
      that the
      military high command kept the number of wounded from
      the American
      public. "There could be some inattention to [the
      number of injured
      troops]," answered Philip Bennett, assistant managing
      editor of the
      foreign desk at the Washington Post when questioned by
      E & P Online.

      As American casualties increased during the summer of
      2003, US
      military officials suppressed discussion of the total
      wounded. Only by July 10, 2003, nearly four months
      after the
      invasion of Iraq had been launched, did CNN report
      that for "the
      first time since the start of the war in Iraq,
      Pentagon officials
      have released the number of US troops wounded from the
      beginning of
      the war through Wednesday [July 9, 2003]."

      However, Seth Porges wrote in Editor & Publisher
      (10/23/03) that
      coverage of injured and wounded U.S. soldiers gets
      very little media
      attention. "For months, the press has barely mentioned
      casualties or the severity of their wounds," writes
      Porges. "Few
      newspapers routinely report injuries in Iraq, beyond
      references to
      specific incidents. Since the war began in March,
      1,927 soldiers
      have been wounded in Iraq, many quite severely."

      But newspapers neglected to report or keep a tally on
      the wounded,
      as an informal survey of some top papers has shown.
      This comes on
      the heels of reports that attacks on American troops
      in Iraq had
      increased in recent weeks from an average of 15 to 20
      attacks per
      day to about 20 to 25 attacks a day, with a peak at
      about 35 attacks
      in one day, according to the commander of U.S. forces
      in Iraq, Lt.
      Gen. Ricardo Sanchez.

      Julian Borger, writing in the British Guardian last
      August, cited
      the comments of Lieut. Col. Allen DeLane, in charge of
      injured GIs into Andrews Air Force Base near
      Washington. According
      to Bolger, DeLane, who had already seen thousands of
      wounded flown
      in, told National Public Radio, in regard to the sharp
      increase in
      the number of US wounded last autumn, "the official
      number of combat
      wounded alone averaged nearly 100 a week between
      mid-September and
      mid-November (lunaville.org)." This made the
      resistance of the
      military to giving out accurate figures increasingly

      As the US media began to request injury figures, the
      Pentagon put up
      as much resistance as it could. In September, 2003,
      the Washington
      Post noted, "Although Central Command keeps a running
      total of the
      wounded, it releases the number only when asked"
      making the combat
      injuries of US troops in Iraq one of the untold
      stories in the war.

      Sen. Bob Graham of Florida, the ranking Democrat on
      the Senate
      Intelligence Committee, had complained in September
      2003 that he was
      unable to find out how many US soldiers had been
      wounded in Iraq
      because the administration refused to release this

      Higher Survival Rates

      Because of the higher survival rate of injured
      soldiers compared
      with previous wars, information about the seriously
      wounded is
      essential to any accurate assessment of the success of
      the war in

      But Lawrence F. Kaplan wrote in the October 13 New
      Republic: "Pentagon officials have rebuked public
      affairs officers
      who release casualty figures, and, until recently, US
      Command did not regularly publicize the injured total

      Kaplan's report cited the condition of many injured
      soldiers at
      Walter Reed Army Medical Center, pointing out that
      modern medicine
      and rapid response techniques allow many wounded
      soldiers to survive
      injuries that would otherwise have killed them in
      previous wars.
      Kevlar body armor also reduced deaths. Still, many of
      these wounded
      soldiers are left with debilitating injury or loss of

      Kaplan wrote: "The near-invisibility of the wounded
      has several
      sources. The media has always treated combat deaths as
      the most
      reliable measure of battlefield progress, while for
      its part the
      administration has been reluctant to divulge the full
      number of

      Last December, Congressman Gene Taylor
      (Dem.-Mississippi) complained
      that the Pentagon deliberately undercounted combat
      casualties. He
      cited the case of five members in the Mississippi
      National Guard who
      had been wounded in a booby-trap bomb explosion.
      Incredibly, their
      injuries were listed by the military as "non combat."
      The truth
      emerged only because Taylor spoke face to face with
      the most
      seriously injured of the five at Walter Reed Army
      Medical Center in
      Washington DC. Taylor sent a memo to the other members
      of Congress
      to "ask if anyone has had a similar incident."

      On October 3rd UPI reported that 4,000 soldiers had
      been medically
      evacuated from Iraq for non-combat reasons. As for the
      tally of
      total deaths in Iraq, most of the media continue to
      cite only those
      killed in hostile action. The administration's numbers
      of "combat" and "non combat" injuries, however, is far
      from the
      whole story. That still leaves out the thousands who
      have become
      physically or mentally ill in Iraq not resulting from
      bombs and
      bullets. Estimates of the real number of US servicemen
      and women
      evacuated for medical reasons from Iraq by the end of
      2003 vary

      Last January 7, National Public Radio's Daniel
      Zwerdling reported on
      the difficulties in finding out the truth about US
      casualties in
      Iraq. He said few Americans are aware of the
      surprisingly large
      number of US wounded in Iraq. Questioning several
      dozen people on
      the street about the total number of American soldiers
      who had died
      in Iraq, he had found that most could answer
      correctly. But when the
      NPR reporter asked about the number of US military
      personnel that
      had been wounded, no one came close to the actual
      figure. The
      answers ranged from a few hundred to a thousand.

      The actual estimates are between 11,000 and 22,000 for
      the number of
      US soldiers, sailors and Marines medically evacuated
      from Iraq by
      the end of 2003 because of battlefield wounds, illness
      or other
      battlefield reasons.

      Trying to get more accurate casualty figures,
      Zwerdling said he
      contacted Sen. Chuck Hagel (Rep.-Nebraska), a Vietnam
      veteran and
      former deputy administrator of the Veterans
      Administration. Hagel
      had tried to obtain the "total number of American
      casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq" from Secretary of
      Defense Donald
      Rumsfeld. The senator had also tried to find out:
      "What is the
      official Pentagon definition of wounded in action?
      What is the
      procedure for releasing this information in a timely
      way to the
      public and the criteria for awarding a Purple Heart
      [awarded to
      those wounded in combat or posthumously to the next of
      kin of those
      killed or those who die of wounds received in

      Hagel had been seeking an accurate, updated count on
      the number of
      Purple Hearts and the dates they were awarded to US
      personnel in Iraq. That number is significant because
      it is an
      official record of the total number of battlefield
      casualties. After
      six weeks, the reply Hagel received was, "the
      Department of Defense
      does not have the requested information."

      Stars and Stripes (November 5, 2003 European edition)
      noted that the
      Landstuhl military hospital in Germany had "treated
      more than 7,000
      injured and ill service members from Iraq." But at the
      same time,
      the military had recorded some 2,000 combat
      casualties. This
      discrepancy is 3.5-times (350%) between the number of
      wounded in
      combat listed by the military and the number of
      service personnel
      medically evacuated from Iraq for treatment in

      The Landstuhl facility, located near the huge US air
      base at
      Ramstein Germany, reported on January 23, 2004 that
      the total US
      medical evacuations from Iraq to Germany by the end of
      2003 was
      9,433. The number of hostile and "non-hostile" wounded
      listed by the
      Army at that point was approximately 2,750. The under
      reporting of
      wounded continues.

      Figures don't lie, but . . .

      Clearly, Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld don't really care
      about the US
      servicemen and women casualties from their war on
      Iraq. They rarely
      acknowledge it publicly.

      But why did the Bush administration knock itself out
      to conceal the
      number of combat veterans injured in Iraq? Answer: To
      avoid the
      appearance of a Vietnam quagmire. The seemingly low,
      number for American loss of life in Iraq looks much
      better than
      Vietnam, but the injury figures are much worse. That's

      The Bush administration claims an overwhelmingly
      popular support for
      its war on Iraq. But the political and media
      establishment can see
      that the public's opposition to the war is constantly
      growing. Like
      the sensation caused by recent revelations of Bush
      being AWOL from
      the Texas Air National Guard in 1972-73 during the
      Vietnam war, the
      tide of public opinion would further turn if the true
      entered the public mind of the war's real effects on
      troops. But how can the "success" of Bush's war be

      Comparing the war in Iraq with that in Vietnam, the
      total number of
      combat troops in Vietnam was 550,000. As many as
      155,000 of them
      were wounded while 10.7% were killed during 10 years.
      In Iraq, so
      far, the total number of combat troops total 150,000
      and between
      11,000 and 22,000 of them have been wounded during
      nine months. Thus
      28.2% of combat troops were wounded in Vietnam while
      in Iraq "only"
      0.3% died in combat, so far, and as many as 14.7% had
      been wounded
      in combat.

      At first glance, Bush's war in Iraq seems to be much
      more "successful" than the war in Vietnam --
      especially when the
      number of wounded are eliminated from the equation.
      The proportion
      of combat troops killed in Vietnam appears to be
      35-times more than
      in Iraq. By contrast, the proportion of Vietnam
      wounded is only two-
      times that sustained in Iraq. That's getting pretty

      A fairer comparison of casualties in the Vietnam war,
      lasting ten
      long years, and Iraq, now less than one year old,
      should include how
      long each of the two wars has lasted. While the war in
      Vietnam has
      been over for more than three decades, American
      soldiers in Iraq are
      still being killed and wounded on a daily basis. The
      figures in Iraq are still rising -- and there's no end
      in sight.

      Clearly, if Bush's war continues for another two to
      five years,
      according to most estimates, the casualty figures from
      the Vietnam
      debacle could make it look even more "successful" than
      Bush's war!

      With the specter of the Vietnam quagmire hanging over
      them, Bush and
      Rumsfeld can only talk about a "successful" war by
      emphasizing the
      relatively low number of Americans killed in Iraq, and
      hiding the
      extraordinarily high number of wounded. But for those
      who had
      sacrificed their lives and limbs to preemptively
      protect the U.S.
      against Saddam Hussein's nonexistent weapons of mass
      Bush's war has been a complete failure.

      Frederick Sweet is Professor of Reproductive Biology
      in Obstetrics
      and Gynecology at Washington University School of
      Medicine in St.
      Louis. You can email your comments to


      by : Frederick Sweet
      Tuesday 19th October 2004
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