Monday, January 23, 2006

The invisible cost of the Iraq war 

Today from the New York Times we got yet more information on the true, and well hidden cost of the U.S. war in Iraq. The article was quite long but I give a couple of exerpts:

It has taken hundreds of hours of therapy, but Jason Poole, a 23-year old Marine corporal, has learned all over again to speak and to walk. At times, though, words still elude him. He can read barely 16 words a minute. His memory can be fickle, his thinking delayed. Injured by a roadside bomb in Iraq, he is blind in his left eye, deaf in his left ear, weak on his right side and still getting used to his new face, which was rebuilt with skin and bone grafts and 75 to 100 titanium screws and plates.


Men and women like Corporal Poole, with multiple devastating injuries, are the new face of the wounded, a singular legacy of the war in Iraq. Many suffered wounds that would have been fatal in earlier wars but were saved by helmets, body armor, advances in battlefield medicine and swift evacuation to hospitals. As a result, the survival rate among Americans hurt in Iraq is higher than in any previous war - seven to eight survivors for every death, compared with just two per death in World War II.


So many who survive explosions - more than half - sustain head injuries that doctors say anyone exposed to a blast should be checked for neurological problems. Brain damage, sometimes caused by skull-penetrating fragments, sometimes by shock waves or blows to the head, is a recurring theme.

More than 1,700 of those wounded in Iraq are known to have brain injuries, half of which are severe enough that they may permanently impair thinking, memory, mood, behavior and the ability to work.

Medical treatment for brain injuries from the Iraq war will cost the government at least $14 billion over the next 20 years, according to a recent study by researchers at Harvard and Columbia.

Jill Gandolfi, a co-director of the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit of the Veterans Affairs Palo Alto Health Care System, where Corporal Poole is being treated, said, "We are looking at an epidemic of brain injuries."

The consequences of brain injury are enormous. Penetrating injuries can knock out specific functions like vision and speech, and may eventually cause epilepsy and increase the risk of dementia. What doctors call "closed-head injuries," from blows to the head or blasts, are more likely to have diffuse effects throughout the brain, particularly on the frontal lobes, which control the ability to pay attention, make plans, manage time and solve problems.

This is indeed well hidden. Don't expect to find any news reports about this on FOX, ABC, CBS, CNN or any of the other war cheerleading "news" outlets. From their point of view these people are better left out of sight and out of mind. After all, they've been thoroughly used by the U.S. military so there is no point talking about them anymore. Actually, though, they probably will be talked about 10 or 20 years from now when the government decides to start cutting their "overly generous" veterans benefits.


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