WASHINGTON, November 7, 2007 – On Veterans Day, politicians will praise the 30,000 troops “officially wounded” in action in Iraq and Afghanistan as if this “statistic” were some kind of “fact.” In doing so, they’ll harm the men and women who carry the burden of our nation’s defense in today’s very dangerous world.
That 30,000 number is a fantasy.
Here’s the truth about the human cost borne by the troops in Iraq and Afghanistan as shown by data from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Of the 1.5 million troops who served in Iraq or Afghanistan, 720,000 (48%) are now veterans in the civilian population.
Of these, 202,000 have filed claims for VA disability benefits. The VA granted benefits in more than 90% of the cases processed so far, and will grant more upon appeal or presentation of additional evidence.
In other words, real statistics show that one out of four veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan is disabled in military service. This should shock no one as troops return to the war zones for their third, fourth, and now fifth tours of combat duty.
Of the 720,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, a quarter million have turned to the VA for treatment – more than one out of every three veterans of the combat theaters.
The figures above don’t include troops still on active duty, many of whom remain in the service after being harmed by war. They too must not be forgotten.
Yet that 30,000 figure keeps floating in political and media circles as if it had authority. Well, it all depends on what you count. If you intentionally count to get a low number, you’ll get a low number. Obviously, someone wants a low number. But what happens as a result?
For one thing, the scandal at Walter Reed Army Medical Center developed as Washington officials dazzled each other with low “casualty counts,” but this was just the tip of an ugly iceberg! Even as our troops shed their blood in Afghanistan and Iraq, health care and benefits for veterans have been decaying across the nation.
Our government tried to do war on the cheap, failing to recognize the back-end cost of veterans with disabilities. True, it increased funding for VA programs each year – by amounts far below the rapidly increasing needs of our disabled heroes.
By using the tightest definition to minimize the casualty count, politicians deny reality, preparing a ruinous future for all disabled veterans, especially our youngest generation. In no way is America prepared to deal with the aftermath of today’s wars as it will be experienced by veterans in the VA.
This is not meant as criticism of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but to present a more complete picture of the sacrifices made by our men and women in uniform.
Much is made of the idea that veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan differ from past generations of America’s defenders. Actually, that’s been true of every generation of veterans to date, and the veterans’ movement has accommodated those differences.
But one thing will always be the same. Veterans age, and the costs of war last a lifetime.
A soldier who suffers a severe brain injury in Iraq today will still be a disabled veteran 60 years from now when reaching the age of today’s World War II veterans. Our nation will still owe that veteran every care in the world.
We must not allow self-serving rhetoric to shortchange any American hero – not now, not ever!
David Gorman is the Executive Director of the Disabled American Veterans, and he works in their Washington, DC headquarters.