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Sunday, April 17, 2011

The US economy, Traumatic Brain Injury, and a matter of a trillion dollars

Only 1% of the cost of the wars is budgeted for medical care for its injured veterans

By Sean Cruz

Portland, Oregon—

Do you remember when George W. “The Decider” Bush, inheritor of a federal budget surplus, gave Saddam Hussein 24 hours to get out of Iraq, lest the U.S. invade to remove him from power by force?

The U.S. was already at war in the wilds of Afghanistan, the place where foreign empires come to die, in a still-fruitless search for Osama bin Laden and those responsible for the 9-11 attacks, before the Cowboy-in-Chief committed the nation to the invasion of Iraq.

At the time, then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld claimed that the war in Iraq would be paid for with Iraqi oil revenues, and fought with minimal U.S. troop levels, and thus minimal consequences.

Perhaps the most arrogant Cabinet member in the history of the nation, Rumsfeld openly ridiculed any person who dared to question his catastrophic policies and decisions that have proved to be as harmful to our own troops as they were to the enemy….

As it turned out, these wars would be “paid for” with money borrowed from China, a strategy that brings us to the present day, facing drastic cuts to domestic
education, health and human services budgets….

The Bush/Cheney/Wolfowitz/Rumsfeld/Rove axis demanded that Saddam turn over weapons of mass destruction that turned out to be non-existent, and so went the budget surplus, with much worse yet to come….

These two short videos document the cavalier attitude with which George W. Bush committed generations of Americans, troops, military families and civilians alike to the costs and consequences of war, not to mention the civilian casualties in Iraq and Aghanistan….

As the White House and Congress seek ways to resolve the nation’s dire fiscal crisis amid the ramping up of partisan rhetoric for the 2012 election cycle, it is worth considering the wars’ total cost, in blood, in treasure, in PTSD, traumatic amputations and Traumatic Brain Injury, the Signature Injury of these wars, and the impact of those injuries on the children and families of injured troops.

More than 200,000 US troops have been diagnosed with Traumatic Brain Injury from mild to severe from combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Lifetime medical costs for TBI patients can be well above $ 5 million each, and you can be sure that those long term costs are not accounted for in any version of projected budgets.

TBI is likely to be the signature wound of the wars that will be fought in the foreseeable future as well. The lethality, flexibility, economy and simplicity of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs) make their continued use a certainty throughout the globe, and the arms industry is always looking for ways to make a more powerful explosion. Helmets can only offer so much protection.

A TBI victim may suffer a wide range of physical, mental, cognitive, emotional and behavioral problems, with lifelong consequences.

These consequences carry into the lives of the victims’ children and families, with ever increasing numbers of TBI-damaged parents coming home, not the same mothers or fathers, grandmothers or grandfathers who left for the war.

“Stress from personal and family concerns likely played a more prominent role in the Gulf War than in other wars, because it involved a greater number of married personnel and parents. In the Vietnam War, 16% of those deployed were married with children, whereas 60% of service members and reservists in the Gulf War were married with dependents, including approximately 32,000 single parents who had to make arrangements for their children during the deployment
(U.S. Senate, 1998).”

Brain injuries are often invisible to the observer, but not to the victim’s children, whose lives are forever altered by this signature wound, carrying the injury into a second generation of victims, these the absolutely innocent, but co-signers of the wound nonetheless.

In a report titled “The Cost of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Other Global War on Terror Operations Since 9/11” the Congressional Research Service puts the known total costs of the Bush/Cheney administration’s decisions to invade Afghanistan in a fruitless search for Osama bin Laden, and also invade Iraq in order to find non-existent weapons of mass destruction and remove Saddam Hussein from power at $ 1.21 trillion dollars.

“With the July 27, 2010 enactment of the FY2010 Supplemental Appropriations Act (H.R. 4899/P.L. 111-201) Congress has approved a total of $1.121 trillion for military operations, base security, reconstruction, foreign aid, embassy costs, and veterans’ health care for the three operations initiated since the 9/11 attacks: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) Afghanistan and other counter terror operations; Operation Noble Eagle (ONE), providing enhanced security at military bases; and Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF).

Of this $1.121 trillion total, CRS estimates that Iraq will receive about $751 billion (67%), OEF $336 billion (30%) and enhanced base security about $29 billion (3%), with about $5 billion that CRS cannot allocate (1/2%). About 94% of the funds are for DOD, 5% for foreign aid programs and embassy operations, and 1% for medical care for veterans.

The Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center

“In 1992, Congress created the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC) — originally known as the Defense and Veterans Head Injury Program (DVHIP) — during the Persian Gulf War to integrate specialized TBI care, research and education across military and veteran medical care systems.”

From the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center website:

“Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is a significant health issue which affects service members and veterans during times of both peace and war. The high rate of TBI and blast-related concussion events resulting from current combat operations directly impacts the health and safety of individual service members and subsequently the level of unit readiness and troop retention. The impacts of TBI are felt within each branch of the service and throughout both the Department of Defense (DoD) and  the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) health care systems. 

"In the VA, TBI has become a major focus secondary to recognition of the need for increased resources to provide health care and vocational retraining for individuals with a diagnosis of TBI, as they transition to veteran status.  Veterans may sustain TBI’s throughout their lifespan, with the largest increase as the veterans' enter into their 70's and 80's; these injuries are often due to falls and result in high levels of disability. 

"Active duty and reserve service members are at increased risk for sustaining a TBI compared to their civilian peers. This is a result of several factors, including the specific demographics of the military; in general, young men between the ages of 18 to 24 are at greatest risk for TBI. Many operational and training activities which are routine in the military are physically demanding and even potentially dangerous. 

"Military service members are increasingly deployed to areas where they are at risk for experiencing blast exposures from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), suicide bombers, land mines, mortar rounds, rocket-propelled grenades etc. These and other combat related activities put our military service members at increased risk for sustaining a TBI."

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