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US Soldiers Brain Injured

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    US soldiers in Iraq suffer horrific brain and mental injuries By Rick Kelly 20 November 2004 http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/nov2004/sold-n20.shtml According
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 1, 2004
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      US soldiers in Iraq suffer horrific brain and mental injuries
      By Rick Kelly
      20 November 2004
      http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/nov2004/sold-n20.shtml

      According to official figures, the Iraq war has so far
      seen 9,000 US soldiers wounded in action, in addition
      to the more than 1,200 troops killed. These wounded,
      whose numbers may well be underestimated, include
      those with gunshot and shrapnel wounds, lost limbs and
      other injuries caused by landmines and bombs. Less
      well known, however, is the terrible toll enacted
      through brain and psychological injuries, which
      frequently have devastating and permanent effects.

      The war has seen unusually high rates of traumatic
      brain injury (TBI). This head injury causes life-long
      damage in many cases. Symptoms include memory loss,
      difficulty with attention and reasoning, headaches,
      confusion, anxiety, irritability and depression.

      TBI rates in previous wars have been estimated at
      about 20 percent. In July, a San Francisco Chronicle
      survey of troops being processed through Walter Reed
      Army Medical Hospital in Washington DC indicated that
      as many as two-thirds of all soldiers wounded in Iraq
      suffer from the condition.

      The increase in brain injury cases is largely due to
      the advanced body armor and helmets now used by US
      forces. As the death rate of wounded troops has
      declined compared to previous conflicts, the rate of
      TBI has shot up. The nature of the Iraq war has also
      increased the number of brain injuries. Rocket
      propelled grenades, mortars, and other explosive
      devices cause concussive shock blasts damaging to the
      brain.

      Traumatic brain injury often goes undetected until the
      affected soldier returns home and his or her family
      notices that something is wrong. The San Francisco
      Chronicle reported on the case of Sgt. 1st Class Alec
      Giess, of the Oregon National Guard, whose truck
      rolled over him as it crashed while avoiding a
      suspected land mine:

      "Geiss' wife, Shana, noticed after his return that the
      easygoing, relaxed dad who went to Iraq had become a
      quick-tempered man who couldn't remember the family's
      daily schedule, jumped up screaming when the family
      cat landed on his bed and couldn't tolerate crowds.
      The world inside his head, Giess said, was even
      stranger: he felt bewildered, with no sense of time
      other than `daytime' and `nighttime.' He also felt cut
      off from his emotions. `When my kids come and hug me,
      I don't feel a thing,' he said."

      Many other incidents of TBI are even more severe. ABC
      News reported last month on the situation in one
      Veterans Affairs hospital in Palo Alto, California.
      "The majority of [TBI patients], they're incontinent,
      both bowel and bladder, so we have to retrain them
      when to use the toilet, how to use the toilet," nurse
      manager Stephanie Alvarez said.

      Each patient at the facility is given a "memory book,"
      which describes that day's schedule, and other
      important information. For many wounded soldiers this
      includes a reminder of why they are in hospital. "I
      had a head injury from an explosion in Iraq on June
      14, 2004," one soldier's book read.

      Post-traumatic stress disorder

      The US military is also experiencing a very high rate
      of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among troops.
      Many of the symptoms are similar to traumatic brain
      injury. Post-traumatic stress disorder sufferers can
      experience feelings of detachment and isolation, poor
      concentration and memory, depression, insomnia,
      flashbacks, as well as headaches, gastrointestinal
      complaints, and immune system problems. Like TBI,
      soldiers suffering from psychological disorders have
      high rates of alcohol and drug abuse, and suicide.

      A study published by the New England Journal of
      Medicine in July found that up to 17 percent of the
      surveyed Iraq veterans suffered from PTSD, generalized
      anxiety, or major depression. This probably
      underestimated the true scale of the problem, since
      the soldiers in the study served in the early phase of
      the war, before the Iraqi resistance really
      intensified.

      "The bad news is that the study underestimated the
      prevalence of what we are going to see down the road,"
      Dr. Matthew J. Friedman, executive director of the
      Veterans Affairs (VA) national center for
      post-traumatic stress disorder, told the Los Angeles
      Times last Sunday. "The complexion of the war has
      changed into a grueling counterinsurgency. And that
      may be very important in terms of the potential
      toxicity of this combat experience."

      "This is urban warfare," declared Dr. Alfonso Bates,
      the VA's national director for readjustment
      counseling. "There's no place to hide in Iraq. Whether
      you're driving a truck or you're a cook, everyone is
      exposed to extreme stress on a daily basis."

      There have been at least 30 reported suicides among
      soldiers in Iraq—a rate nearly one-third higher than
      the Army's historical average. Many more suicides
      occur in the US by those who have finished their tour
      of duty, but since the Pentagon does not track these
      incidents the number is not known.

      Associated Press, however, reported on October 18 that
      at least 12 Marines had killed themselves after
      returning from Iraq or Afghanistan. "Military people
      are heavily vetted for any psychological problems
      before they enter the service," noted Steve Robinson,
      executive director of the National Gulf War Resource
      Center. "They're screened very well when they come in,
      and they're supposed to be screened very well when
      they leave. So when a Marine takes the ultimate step
      of checking out by taking his own life, it should make
      the hair on the back of your neck stand up. These are
      the guys who aren't supposed to do that."

      There is mounting evidence that the rate of suicide
      and psychological disorders is at least partially due
      to the brutality of the US-led occupation. Most of
      those serving in the military were drawn from working
      class and impoverished rural regions, and enlisted
      either to get a job or to advance their education.

      These young people have been dispatched to a war that
      was based on a series of flagrant lies, and that
      violated numerous precepts of international law. They
      are now being ordered to intimidate and terrorize the
      Iraqi people, and to crush any resistance to the
      occupation and Iyad Allawi's stooge interim
      government. The killing and brutalization of the Iraqi
      people has triggered guilt, shame and serious
      psychological problems for many soldiers.

      Last month Associated Press reported the case of
      Jeffrey Lucey, a 23-year-old Marine who suffered from
      serious depression and became dependent on alcohol
      after returning from Iraq in July 2003. On Christmas
      Eve he told his sister how he had been ordered to
      shoot two unarmed Iraqi soldiers. "He took off two dog
      tags around his neck, then threw them at me and said,
      `Don't you understand? Your brother is a murderer,'"
      she recalled. Lucey killed himself in June.

      Former Army sergeant, Matt La Branche, told the Los
      Angeles Times that the memories of his nine-month
      stint as a machine-gunner in Iraq left him "feeling
      dead inside." He constantly struggles with the image
      of the Iraqi woman who died in his arms after he had
      shot her. The woman's children were also wounded in
      the incident. "I'm taking enough drugs to sedate an
      elephant, and I still wake up dreaming about it," he
      said.

      Affected soldiers receive grossly inadequate treatment
      from the military establishment. Brain trauma and
      psychological injuries often require months of
      expensive and intensive rehabilitation, long-term drug
      therapy and psychological counseling. Facilities that
      were already underfunded and overstretched are now at
      breaking point.

      Receiving treatment is especially difficult for
      sufferers of PTSD. Army psychologists are pressured to
      get their patients back out in the field as soon as
      possible, while the macho culture cultivated within
      the ranks leads many soldiers to deny that they have a
      problem. The New England Journal of Medicine study
      found that less than half of all soldiers affected by
      PTSD sought treatment, fearing stigmatization or
      damage to their careers.

      Officials also leave many families of PTSD sufferers
      completely unprepared for the shock of having to deal
      with the condition. One woman told the New Yorker how
      she had been advised prior to the return of her
      husband from Iraq: "When he was coming home, the Army
      gave us little cards that said things like `Watch for
      psychotic episodes' and `Is he drinking too much?' A
      lot of wives said it was a joke. They had a lady come
      from the psych ward, who said—and I'm serious—`Don't
      call us unless your husband is waking you up in the
      middle of the night with a knife at your throat.' Or,
      `Don't call us unless he actually chokes you, unless
      you pass out. He'll have flashbacks. It's normal.'"

      Such treatment is indicative of the way in which tens
      of thousands of young people are being used as cannon
      fodder in Iraq. Responsibility for their suffering
      rests with the criminals in the White House who
      launched the war of aggression, and more broadly, the
      entire US political establishment which is united on
      maintaining the indefinite occupation of Iraq.

      See Also:
      One in six US veterans of Iraq war suffers trauma
      disorders [9 July 2004]
      http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/jul2004/post-j09.shtml
      Testing of New York guardsmen: first confirmed cases
      of Iraq war depleted uranium exposure [21 April 2004]
      http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/apr2004/dura-a21.shtml
      Washington conceals US casualties in Iraq [4 February
      2004]
      http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/feb2004/woun-f04.shtml
      Alarming rise in suicides among US troops in Iraq [5
      December 2003]
      http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/dec2003/suic-d05.shtml
      America's maimed come home from Iraq [30 July 2003]
      http://www.wsws.org/articles/2003/jul2003/maim-j30.shtml

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      http://www.wsws.org/articles/2004/nov2004/sold-n20.shtml

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