History of the Iraq War, Part XIX: The Costs for American Veterans

The costs to those fighting the wars have been immense. According to Department of Defense statistics on May 29, 2012, 4,409 American soldiers died and 31,928 were wounded (Department of Defense, 2012). Another Army study estimated that 18% of Iraq War veterans have sustained some level brain damage from improvised explosive devices (e.g., roadside bombs), in addition to 1,000 suffering amputations. Meanwhile, the average wait for disability claims processing has grown to six months. In one six month period (October 1, 2007 – March 31, 2008), 1,467 veterans (from any war) died while their claims were pending (Glantz, 2009, p. 10, 111-115). Approximately 100,000, or one in three, have serious mental health disorders, including depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (Stiglitz & Bilmes, 2009, p. xi). Recent data shows that military suicide rates are at the highest levels ever recorded (Barnes & Chong, 2009). Despite the growing need, the number of mental health professionals decreased drastically during the first few years of the Iraq War: by 8 percent in the Army, 15 percent in the Navy and 20 percent in the Air Force (Glantz, 2009, p. 96). Meanwhile, of the approximately 200,000 homeless veterans in the United States, 3,700 are veterans of the wars Iraq or Afghanistan (Eckholm, 2009).

The psychological hell visited on Iraqis is also visited on American veterans. Wright (2004, p. 218) describes a disturbing episode where US soldiers fire on a civilian car and check the passengers:

"[Private] Graves sees a little girl curled up in the backseat…She seems to be cowering. Graves reaches in to pick her up – thinking about what medical supplies he might need to treat her, he later says – when the top of her head slides off and her brains fall out. When Graves steps back, he nearly falls over when his boot slips in the girl’s brains. It takes a full minute before Graves can actually talk."

When one group of enlisted soldiers debated what to do if an Iraqi child was in the way of a convoy, a lieutenant told them, “Run him over. They don’t value human life like we do and they don’t share our same Western values” (Hedges & al-Arian, 2008, p. 12-13). American combat medic Patrick Resta also witnessed officially sanctioned dehumanization (Glantz, 2009, p. 2):

"When I would walk through these cities I had people bringing their children up to me who were ill and had to be treated, and we were threatened with being court-martialed if we took any medicine to treat these Iraqis in the city."


Barnes, Julian and Jia-Rui Chong. January 30, 2009. “Army Suicides Rate Hits a Three-Decade High, Officials Say.” Los Angeles Times.

Department of Defense. 2012. Untitled. http://www.defense.gov/news/casualty.pdf.

Eckholm, Erik. July 25, 2009. “For Veterans, A Weekend Pass from Homelessness.” New York Times.

Glantz, Aaron. 2009. The War Comes Home: Washington’s Battle against America’s Veterans. University of California Press.

Hedges, Chris and Laila al-Arian. 2008. Collateral Damage: America’s War against Iraqi Civilians. Nation Books.

Stiglitz, Joseph and Linda Bilmes. 2009. The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict. Penguin.

Wright, Evan. 2004. Generation Kill: Devil Dogs, Iceman, Captain America and the New Face of American War. Putnam Adult.

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