November 17, 2008 – Veterans Day commemorations took place last week, but for some veterans, the day took on a different meaning.
Just the day before, 15 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and their supporters pled “not guilty” to charges of disorderly conduct for demonstrating at the third presidential debate in October.
Known as the Hempstead 15, these members of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans Against the War were nonviolently attempting to deliver to CBS moderator Bob Schieffer one question they had for each of the candidates.
The group of mainly Army and Marine Corps sergeants were frustrated with the loss of media interest with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan during the election cycle and demanded attention be paid to veterans’ needs.
Matthis Chiroux, an Army sergeant who served in Afghanistan, asked Schieffer why the government refused to adequately fund veterans’ care, “while simultaneously lining the pockets of the richest with $700 billion in taxpayer (including service members and veterans’) money.”
Several were hurt by the police that day, including Iraq vet Sgt. Nick Morgan, who had his cheekbone broken when a police officer on a horse trampled him as he was standing on the sidewalk.
“‘Support our troops’ should at least mean: Don’t step on their faces when they are trying to exercise free speech,” Bob Keeler opined in Newsday.
The total financial cost of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, which includes the future long-term care for the staggering number of U.S. military casualties, will be between $3 and $5 trillion, said economist Joseph Stiglitz at a talk on campus recently.
But the human cost is incalculable.
Of the 1.64 million service members who have served either in Afghanistan or Iraq, a Pentagon-sponsored research and development study found that approximately 300,000 of them suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression, and 320,000 experienced a probable traumatic brain injury during their deployment.
A class-action lawsuit by Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth revealed in May that 18 American war veterans kill themselves every day – accounting for more daily U.S. deaths due to suicide than from combat.
Additionally, there are 1,000 attempted suicides every month – a statistic that Dr. Ira Katz, the head of the Veterans Affair’s Mental Health Division, secretly advised a spokesperson to keep hidden from CBS news.
The lawsuit also revealed that 287,790 returning Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans filed a disability claim with the Veterans Administration as of March 25.