This essay by Nora Eisenberg was sent to VT by Paul Sullivan, and our friends, over at Veterans for Common Sense (VCS).
Nora notes that these are ten things we ‘must’ remember on Memorial Day, and I changed the focus to ten things we should have remembered last Memorial Day and most likely didn’t.
Robert L. Hanafin, Major, U.S. Air Force-Retired, VT News
Essay: Ten Things We Must Remember on Memorial Day
Written by Nora Eisenberg
Nora Eisenberg Lists Facts About Current Wars
According to Yale historian David Blight, Memorial Day (first called Decoration Day), the U.S. holiday commemorating fallen soldiers, got its start at the end of the Civil War.
In 1865 in Charleston, South Carolina former African-American slaves exhumed Union soldiers from a mass grave on the site of Charleston’s exclusive racetrack and buried them in individual graves, a ten-day project that ended in a day of celebration of the nation, peace, and freedom in which thousands of Charleston’s black families gathered to decorate graves, pray, play games, and picnic. 135 years after the end of our Civil War, our nation is engaged in near civil wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which we had a part in starting and no plans for ending.
“We don’t do body counts,”General Tommy Franks, commander of the U.S. invasions of both Afghanistan and Iraq, famously remarked, when asked about Iraqi civilian casualties. We do do body counts of our own — though we don’t talk about them much. Thanks to groups like Veterans for Common Sense, Department of Defense and Veterans Affairs data have been publicized, and thanks to projects like Iraq Body Count, we do count them.
As we picnic[ed] and play[ed] this [past] Memorial Day, [did we] try to remember that:
- To date, there have been 90,955 documented U.S. troop casualties in the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.Of these, 4,378 troops have died; 37,280 have been wounded in action; and 48,272 have been medically evacuated due to injury or disease.
- The Department of Defense last year warned that as many as 20 percent of veterans (360,000) may have suffered traumatic brain injury from IED blasts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blast injuries generally do not result in skull fractures or loss of consciousness yet the Institute of Medicine has reported that these traumatic brain injuries may cause diffuse brain bleeding and result in PTSD and problems with mood, attention, concentration, memory, pain, balance, hearing and vision.
- 508,152 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are patients in the VA system. Thousands more are waiting as much as a year for VA treatment for serious ailments including traumatic brain injury. 243,685 (48 percent) are mental health patients and 143,530 (28 percent) are being treated for PTSD. A recent University of Michigan study demonstrated that PTSD sufferers have more physical illness in later life as their immune systems take back seats to systems needed for crises. VT Editorial Comment: VT writer Bob Higgins recently posted an article on the relationship between PTSD, older Veterans, and dementia. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Associated With Dementia Among Older Veterans
- Every day, five U.S. soldiers attempt suicide, a 500 percent increase since 2001.
- Every day 18 U.S. veterans attempt suicide, more than four times the national average. Of the 30,000 suicides each year in the U.S., 20 percent are committed by veterans, though veterans make up only 7.6 percent of the population.
- Female veteran suicide is rising at a rate higher than male veteran suicides.
- In 2009, there were 3,230 reports of sexual assault including rape, according to the DoD, with many more that number thought to be unreported. In a 2003 survey of female veterans 30 percent reported being raped in the military. A 2004 study of veterans with PTSD reported that 71 percent of women seeking treatment said they were sexually assaulted or raped while serving in the military.
- The number of U.S. service men and women killed in Afghanistan has doubled in the first quarter of 2010. compared to the same quarter last year. In the first two months of 2010, injuries tripled, with U.S. casualties expected to rise still more with the troop surge in Afghanistan.
- 2,052,405 service men and women have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001. Over 40 percent of them have been deployed two or more times. Some will have been deployed as many as five years Currently 94,000 U.S. troops are serving in Afghanistan and 92,000 in Iraq. And last but not least:
- Estimates of civilian deaths from violence in Iraq alone range from a conservative 105,000 (Iraq Body Count project) to over 1.2 million (UK pollster Opinion Research Business), with estimates by Johns Hopkins at 655,000. More than 125,000 civilians have been injured in Iraq and 4 million displaced, with civilian death and injury in 2010 rising each month. By most estimates, tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed or injured since the 2001 invasion, over 200,00 have been internally displaced, and over 2 million have become refugees, with civilian deaths and injuries rising dramatically in 2010.
The war in Iraq is in its seventh year. The war in Afghanistan is in its ninth year.
Combined as part of the Gulf War that began in 1990 and never ended, this is America’s longest war in our history. On Memorial Day, as we remember[ed] the dead and wounded, ours and theirs, the latest installment of 30,000 new troops [was] readying for new battles with Taliban fighters in Kandahar.
When will they ever learn, oh, when will they ever learn?
Nora Eisenberg is the director of the City University of New York’s fellowship program for emerging scholars. Her short stories, essays and reviews have appeared in such places as The Partisan Review, The Village Voice, The Los Angeles Times and Tikkun. She is the author of three highly acclaimed novels. Her most recent novel, When You Come Home (Curbstone, 2009), explores the the 1991 Gulf War and Gulf War illness.
Posted by: Major Robert L. Hanafin, U.S. Air Force-Retired
Readers are more than welcome to use the articles I’ve posted on Veterans Today, I’ve had to take a break from VT as Veterans Issues and Peace Activism Editor and staff writer due to personal medical reasons in our military family that take away too much time needed to properly express future stories or respond to readers in a timely manner.
My association with VT since its founding in 2004 has been a very rewarding experience for me.
Retired from both the Air Force and Civil Service. Went in the regular Army at 17 during Vietnam (1968), stayed in the Army Reserve to complete my eight year commitment in 1976. Served in Air Defense Artillery, and a Mechanized Infantry Division (4MID) at Fort Carson, Co. Used the GI Bill to go to college, worked full time at the VA, and non-scholarship Air Force 2-Year ROTC program for prior service military. Commissioned in the Air Force in 1977. Served as a Military Intelligence Officer from 1977 to 1994. Upon retirement I entered retail drugstore management training with Safeway Drugs Stores in California. Retail Sales Management was not my cup of tea, so I applied my former U.S. Civil Service status with the VA to get my foot in the door at the Justice Department, and later Department of the Navy retiring with disability from the Civil Service in 2000.
I’ve been with Veterans Today since the site originated. I’m now on the Editorial Board. I was also on the Editorial Board of Our Troops News Ladder another progressive leaning Veterans and Military Family news clearing house.
I remain married for over 45 years. I am both a Vietnam Era and Gulf War Veteran. I served on Okinawa and Fort Carson, Colorado during Vietnam and in the Office of the Air Force Inspector General at Norton AFB, CA during Desert Storm. I retired from the Air Force in 1994 having worked on the Air Staff and Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon.