Monday, March 24, 2008

The Hidden Casualties

We hit another milestone this weekend: the number of dead US soldiers in Iraq reached 4,000. That's horrible, but just as horrible is the number of US casualties, those who were badly injured fighting in that illegal and misbegotten war. While the number varies, depending on what the Pentagon feels like telling us on any given day, one number which gets bandied about is 30,000. That means 30,000 families now have to cope with an often brain-injured loved one, and without much help from the government.

There is a heartbreaking story in today's Boston Globe that details just what one wife is having to go through. It was staggering, especially since she pretty much is going it alone. I won't recite the facts of that particular story (although I do urge you to go read the article, because it's stunning), but I will recite some of the facts surrounding the help our wounded and their families get once they come home.

More than 30,000 troops have been wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the care they receive has been a subject of national scrutiny. But little attention has been paid to their families, many of whom now have to live with maimed or traumatized veterans. Injured veterans' families and advocates say the support that exists for such families is insufficient.

"It's still under the radar," said Paul Rieckhoff, an Iraq war veteran and director of the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a private advocacy organization. "This country is still getting its head around the scope of the difficulties facing veterans themselves."

Recognizing that family members of injured veterans need extra help, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs in December announced a $4.7 million package of services for the families of injured veterans that includes help with transportation, respite care, and emotional support. Congress this January expanded the Family and Medical Leave Act to stipulate that employers must allow caretakers to take off up to 26 weeks instead of 12 to care for severely injured service members.

But that is not enough, said Rieckhoff and other advocates. The injured veterans' relatives also need help navigating the bureaucracy of the benefits system; extra money to compensate for jobs they have given up in order to take care of their loved ones; counseling; help with child care and even with such basic things as doing the laundry and getting groceries.

$4.7 million: well, big whoop! That works out to about $155 per family. That's going to go along way with gasoline now costing $3.50 a gallon in many states and a 12 ounce tin of coffee costing just under $5. Yup, that'll pay the rent in a family trying to live on Social Security and a military disability pension because the other worker in the family has had to quit his or her job to take care of the injured warrior.

And I can just hear Vice President Cheney's response to this kind of news:


302 days.

Labels: ,


Post a Comment

<< Home