Ft. Hood & the True Cost of Iraq & Afghanistan Wars: Nearly 1 mn traumatized: PTSD by the Numbers

(By Juan Cole)

The Ft. Hood shooter who left 3 victims dead yesterday had been being assessed for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. He had served for 4 months at the tail end of the Iraq War in 2011 and suffered from anxiety and depression.

A staggering 1 million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars have sought treatment for physical or mental medical conditions either in the field or in Europe or back home at Veterans Administration Hospitals. Some 30% – 35% of Vets have been found in a Stanford study to suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome. Jamie Reno of the International Business Times wrote,

“VA may eventually treat 1.5 million Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran patients.

Among these veterans, some sources revealed last year that the PTSD rate exceeds 30 percent, and one Stanford University study puts the PTSD rate at 35 percent. If accurate, that means a total of between 780,000 and 910,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans may return home with PTSD, which is often debilitating.”

The US media almost never reports these numbers, giving the much smaller, though even sadder, numbers of US military personnel killed ( nearly 7,000 in the two wars).

The Iraq War was an elective war. It was fought for objectives that are still murky. It was illegal in international law. George W. Bush and Richard Bruce Cheney took these brave men and women into battle despite the lack of serious threat to the US from Iraq. The full harm they did these military personnel won’t be known for decades. But all too often observers concentrate on the soldiers killed in action or (less commonly) wounded physically or suffering from physical conditions attributable to serving in the war. The enormous psychological toll of these wars on soldiers, sailors and Marines is seldom recalled.

Here are some key statistics in this regard:

Number of veterans who served in Iraq or Afghanistan: 2.3 million

Number with traumatic brain injury from explosions: 437,000 (19%)

Number with PTSD: roughly 800,000

Number with PTSD likely to get minimally adequate treatment: 200,000

Number diagnosed with both PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury: 161,000 (7%)

Number of Iraq/Afghanistan vets likely suffering from alcohol abuse: 897,000 (39%)

Percentage of US population that is veterans: 7

Percentage of suicides accounted for by veterans: 20

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Related video:

CBS 6 Albany: “PTSD, lack of jobs plague today’s Vets”

26 Responses

  1. When we talk about the unnecessary wars, the cost of it, and the lives lost, no one takes into consideration, that we have thousands of our kids, traumatized, mentally ill, and suffering from PTSD. It seems warmongers are so eager to wage wars, the long term consequences of their actions, are not even considered.
    Will situations like this deter the next warmongering administration, from making the Bush/Cheney mistakes, most probably not.

  2. Your readers may be interested in the important book ‘They Were Soldiers’ by Ann Jones (Dispatch Books, 2013), the subtitle ‘How the Wounded Return from America’s Wars – The Untold Story’ explains what the book is about. Same theme as this article, but is a book so has many more details, something everyone should know. Perhaps you have already read this book.

    • This is a wonderful book; so many Americans do not care what their leaders do around the world, but they do care about “our troops”, and this book shows how much this is part of the wars the US insists on continuing.

  3. The effects will not stop with this generation. The psychological wounds are transferred to people’s kids in 1000 ways. I know adults today who grew up in peace and prosperity but carry the trauma (depression, suicidal thoughts, panic attacks) that their parents experienced in the death camps. Another family has been impacted for four generations by the experience of great-grandfather in WWI and the alcoholism, depression, and occasional violent temper that he carried home to his children. Naturally some of that got passed down the line, over and over again.
    As a midwesterner of German heritage I have little doubt that some of the psychological strains running through my own family tree could be traced back to the 30 Years War or beyond.
    If some politician with a spine and a heart were to propose a special tax to care for our wounded vets, I for one would be happy to pay it. In the meantime, the Wounded Warrior project does good work and can use your contributions.

  4. I served as a medical corpsman in Vietnam ( 31 May 1967 – 31 May 1968 ) and have PTSD from all the horrific things I saw during my tour of duty. But fortunately in my late fifties, I gave up realizing I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and finally sought help at a local VA clinic for my PTSD.

    That was just one of the reasons I was opposed to the illegal invasion and occupation of Iraq. All wars have unforeseen consequences even what is called our last supposedly “good war,” the Second World War. I bracketed that Orwellian phrase, good war, in quotation marks, because there are no good wars. There are only necessary wars based upon a real and legitimate threat to our national security.

    That was just one of the reasons I opposed former President George W. Bush’s resolution for the illegal invasion and occupation in Iraq. But this is beyond partisan politics or ideology. Yet even prominent Vietnam veterans such as John Kerry, Chuck Hagel and John McCain in the Senate and Colin Powell in George W. Bush’s administration supported this war, which to this day I find amazing. I often wonder how they can live with themselves or even look at themselves in the bathroom mirror. In the morning. All Vietnam veterans have a special obligation to speak out against these wars of choice.

    And I also reject all this mud-slinging about who is or isn’t a chicken hawk or a neocon hawk or a liberal hawk or who had other priorities to avoid military service during our last national draft. or the cultural divide among boomers who went away or those who stayed behind during the Vietnam War. There was simply no reason to go to war in Iraq.

    I know this may seem strange to state but soldiers are victims of war just as much as the innocent civilians caught in the crossfire. This latest massacre was a cry for help by this mentally ill young man who committed these crimes. And the VA hospitals and clinics are clearly overwhelmed tryin to help younger veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and also dealing with all the aging boomers such as myself from the Vietnam Wars.

  5. And a recent poll indicated 38 percent of respondents still consider going into Iraq was the right decision – link to pollingreport.com. Unfortunately, the poll doesn’t have the respondents explain how they could be so stupid. Then there are the financial costs of the Iraq war that are expected to exceed $3 trillion, considerably more than the $60 billion projected by former Bush official and now Indiana governor Mitch Daniels and supposedly believed by a majority in Congress.

    • Not only that, but many others eg POTUS Obama, claim it was a “mistake”, not a terrible crime based on deliberate lies. The results continue in “free, liberated” Iraq.

  6. Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
    Everyone talks about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder that happens after the fact i.e. after the war.
    How many solders go happily to see death & destruction, killing & being killed and bombs exploding around them? The fear of being killed is always there & hence it creates anxiety & disgust, fatigue & loss of sleep, especially for the wars of choice by warmongers & war profiteers.
    This creates another condition of PTSD that no one talks about. It is Pre-Traumatic Stress Disorder. How many suffer with this disorder?
    Those have pre conditions; will most likely suffer much more severely with Post-Traumatic Stress disorder.

  7. Bush and Cheney are mentioned and rightfully so. It is irresponsible to not mention Obama, who started more wars that Bush, one without congressional consent. Like his predecessor puppet, his wars are Many families; children are killed by Obama wars and drone bombs. The main differences between Bush and Obama are Obama started more wars and he has a Nobel Peace Prize…

  8. The PTSD diagnosis is a travesty. It mocks the travesty the recent US invasions called “wars” and foreign policy: None for the USA National interest.
    The PTSD diagnosis is a falsehood, an invention: There is no test, no way to demonstrate objectively a person has such “disease.”
    The PTSD diagnosis is nothing but the medicalization of “personal upset.”
    The PTSD diagnosis is conveniently placed on soldiers to distract them and the public from the militaristic nightmare the USA has been involved since de so called 9/11. You never hear of a differential diagnosis offered to PTSD such us: “The SOLDIER is mortified, impotent, powerless, demoralized upon the horror of military action (deceptively called wars of liberation) on innocent people in foreign lands to which he had to participate because that was the only job he could get. A horrible personal tragedy that is further desecrated with the use of word Hero and the Flag.” We-are-all-SOLDIER…
    Nor would the users of the PTSD diagnosis ever consider that the SOLDIER’S act of suicide was the only power left to him.

    • In the First World War, it was called shell shock; in the Second World War, it was called battle fatigue; and after the Vietnam War it was called post traumatic stress disorder.

      And even Homer, the Greek classical poet, begins The Illiad with Achilles mourning in his tent over the death of his comrade, Patroclus. Achilles had PTSD. That’s why he goes berserk later when he rejoins his comrades in their battle against the Trojans and desecrates the corpse of Hector by dragging it with his chariot around the walled fortress of Troy. So PTSD has been around for quite a long time. Just as war has. But as the Greeks say, tragically, war is the father of all things.

      There’s a great documentary John Huston, the legendary film director, made about veterans of the Second World War. It is entitled “Let There Be Light.” It’s about patients suffering from what was called back then battle fatigue. But when the brass in the Pentagon saw it, they quickly suppressed the film. it showed the unpleasant truth about what war does to the those who fight them. If you get a chance, surf over to YouTube and watch it. And ironically, the Department of Defense only allowed it to be shown to the public toward the end of the Vietnam War in the early 1970s.

      You are certainly entitled to your opinion. Who would deny you your own point of view on this issue? But to me at least, you confuse the nature of war with a mental state of being to score some political points in your diatribe.. And I hate the military/industrial complex and the war profiteers as much as you do. But you obviously have a condescending attitude toward military service. It’s an honorable profession, but it’s not for me. I’m a hardcore civilian and served only as a medical corpsman in Vietnam. But to this day I know I have a mild case of PTSD. To this day, weapons scare me. Not too macho, but it’s the truth.

      And quite frankly, you state the obvious when you call wars “militaristic nightmares.” That’s just the nature of the beast. You can’t change the nature of war. Nor how some of those such as this young man come back. And his mental illness was severely compounded when his mother and one of his grandparents died soon after he rotated back to the world. So he won the trifecta of human misery.

      I was against the war in Iraq. It was a war of choice but not one of necessity. I wouldn’t wish war on my worst enemy. And when I got out of the service in March, 1970, I felt like I was getting out of prison and had received a reprieve from the governor for good behavior. So I’m by nature no big fan of military service.

      By the way, his suicide wasn’t an act of power. It was a bizarre cry for help. And the only hero I ever met in Vietnam was a fictional character named Captain Yorsarrian when I read Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 during my tour of duty. He really knew the score when it comes to war: everyone is trying their best to get you killed starting with your commanding officers.

    • And ol’ Nel, you base your diagnostic certainty on just what, again? What I and a lot of other “Troops” experienced after our “experiences” is just “personal upset?’ “the only job he could get”? At least we seem to be on the same page about the reality of “war as nothing but a racket…

      Everyone’s got an opinion, and other orifices too. In the meantime, the global militarized Libertarianized carbonconsumptionized long scream of a ride down the steepening slope to extinction gets louder, more insistent, more immanent…

  9. Some of that “collateral damage” that Rumsfeld, Bush and Cheney didn’t take in to consideration.

  10. Perhaps those studying why some people succumb to PTSD should also study their opposites who have no qualms or regrets about instigating wars of choice. The same goes for others who totally ignore the crimes of such people. To cite just one example of many, consider Condoleeza Rice, she of the famous mushroom cloud threatening us if we didn’t do something about Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction that never existed. Some time ago I listened to a Democratic Party operative claim to have a lot of respect for Ms. Rice and that she was a friend. Now we learn that a major university is going to pay her $150K for a speech. “Misguided honor for Condi Rice: U.S. officials lecture others about respecting international law and punishing human rights crimes, but those principles are ignored when the violators are U.S. officials. Offenders like ex-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice even get honors,” as Coleen Rowley and Todd E. Pierce note. – link to consortiumnews.com

    If, instead of also losing that war Iraq had won and applied the same principles against the architects of that illegal and immoral aggression that the Allies applied at Nuremberg against the Nazis then many of them would have been dangling at the end of a rope a long time ago instead of justifying their past actions and, in some cases, promoting new wars.

  11. Of course the reason that Iraq was different than all other wars was that soldiers were routinely ordered to kill innocent civilians- setting up checkpoints (even secret) where they machine gunned cars at 50-100M on the 1-2% chance that they were suicide bombers. When they were actually women, children, elderly fleeing the apocalyptic (sometimes on US instruction!!!). That’ll mess up your brain forever- not in country, but on return, when the magnitude of your crimes assails you in the safety of split-level America. These guy will be living on the streets for the next 20 years – too bad the ones that snap don’t do so on the guilty neocons that cooked up that criminal outrageous.

  12. USA & Europeans fought two bloodiest wars mainly in Europe & in North Africa in the last century, known as World War 1 & 2. Millions of civilians were killed, cities were leveled, hundreds & thousands of soldiers were killed.

    GI’s returned in millions in terrible shape. Many did not find their wives on return since they got married to other men. Many veterans saw much worse conditions in the battlefields & trenches of Europe in comparison to what was in two Gulf wars & in Afghanistan. Those wars were not slam-dunks or cake walks.

    Many veterans ended up in mental institutions or mental & many other kinds of medicines.

    I have yet to read about those veterans, any of them due to PTSD, gone on killing rampage of their own fellow veterans or massacred civilians having lunch in a restaurant, like what happened just outside Fort Hood army base in Lube’s restaurant in 1991 in Klein, Texas.

    Those were real veterans, they fought the war bravely, and they faced the world bravely after the war. They did not start airplane high jacking either. They were simply brave in all respects, with or without PTSD.

  13. Right after the media celebrated the one of the few months in which the Pentagon reported no deaths in the AfPak war (although there were 16 WIA the week ending March 26), the military suffers four “non-hostile”casualties in the US.

    Both Ft Hood shooters bought their weapon at Guns Galore in Killeen.

  14. Lady Macbeth’s doctor had it right: Her distress was not a medical matter, it was not a disease. It was a moral matter: Guilt. Whether Lady Macbeth, Achilles, George Hoffman or myself, we humans are occasionally confronted with terrible moral dilemmas that are very disturbing; so repugnant to look at that we opt out the moral mode and jump in the medical mode e.g. PTSD, for the solution. Of course the solution will never come because there is no cure for a nonexistent disease.

    Yet one cannot be too hard on those that go for a medical diagnosis because the medical industry is so available to the charade that advertises it, ad nauseum, for a fee. The military buys it cheap. Once you mortgage your soul into the disease mode you never get out of it. You most likely will get worse because of the side effects of the psychotropic drugs. Notice that many or most suicide/homicide cases in the military are by people who have been taking prescribed psychotropic drugs.

    We, USA citizens, are all Lady Macbeth, we are all “SOLDIER” in the contemporary militaristic/foreign policy nightmare. Medicine would never cure it, no matter how much money you put in it. The only possible solution is for us to appeal to our patriotic courage and face the nightmare. How? Open up the whole thing to public discourse including the so many political inconvenient voices that are the officials kept at bay, e.g. Juan Cole.

  15. In 1980 , I had a traumatic brain injury in a car wreck. For the next year, I was under the care of a neurosurgeon in the Houston Medial Center. Basically, there are two different stages to long term recovery. The first stage, lasting 7-8 years, involves the brain reconnecting and using less efficient neural pathways to take the place of the ones that were injured and died. During this time, the victim will suffer from several bouts of long term depression. That depression will also cause many to use alcohol or drugs as a coping mechanism.

    Addiction to drugs and/or alcohol are the biggest long term dangers, IMO. A good percentage of people with brain injuries will wind up being homeless and die at a fairly young age (before 50) because they had a traumatic brain injury.

    I think my own experience and recovery over the last 33+ years gives me some understanding of the problems these poor soldiers will have to endured for the rest of their lives.

  16. (apologies to comedian who told this)
    ‘kid has friends whose dads have lost their jobs.
    all concerned, asks dad if he will lose his job.
    dad (a v.a. social worker) hugs kid and replies:
    “mikey, mikey, there will always be veterans.”

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