The death count is accurate. But the wounded figure wildly understates the number of American servicemembers who have come back from Iraq less than whole.
The true number of military personnel injured over the course of our nine-year-long fiasco in Iraq is in the hundreds of thousands — maybe even more than half a million — if you take into account all the men and women who returned from their deployments with traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress, depression, hearing loss, breathing disorders, diseases, and other long-term health problems.
We don’t have anything close to an exact number, however, because nobody’s been keeping track.
The much-cited Defense Department figure comes from its tally of “wounded in action” [PDF] — a narrowly-tailored category that only includes casualties during combat operations who have “incurred an injury due to an external agent or cause.” That generally means they needed immediate medical treatment after having been shot or blown up. Explicitly excluded from that category are “injuries or death due to the elements, self-inflicted wounds, combat fatigue” — along with cumulative psychological and physiological strain or many of the other wounds, maladies and losses that are most common among Iraq veterans.
The “wounded in action” category is relatively consistent, historically, so it’s still useful as a point of comparison to previous wars. But there is no central repository of data regarding these other, sometimes grievous, harms. We just have a few data points here and there that indicate the magnitude. [Continue reading…]