This week marks the fifth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq. The total number of U.S. military personell killed in Iraq hovers just below 4,000 - 3,992 to be precise - according to Iraq Coalition Casualty Count. The total number of coalition forces killed in Iraq has already broken that mark, at 4,300. In addition, 29,314 U.S. military personnel have been wounded in the war. Estimates on the number of Iraqi civilians killed in the war range from around 80,000 (Iraq Body Count) to more than 600,000 (John Hopkins University studies). And a total of $752 billion has already been spent to pay for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
These are the figures that we tend to refer to when we talk about the costs of war. But with war comes other costs that are difficult to capture in numeric form. These are the hidden costs of war.
This past weekend veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan gathered in Maryland to talk publicly about their experiences abroad. They told tales of war that will disturb any person of conscience that hears them. Stories of innocent civilians killed, ever changing rules of engagement, torture, and casual disregard for human life. Stories of atrocities encouraged and sanctioned by military officers. Stories that reveal the horrifying nature of this war - and of all war.Â Their story has been largely ignored by the American mass media, but has been made know by the work of the independent media - particularly Amy Goodman's Democracy Now.
It would be easy to dismiss these testimonies as partisan political statements made by veterans opposed to the war. Indeed, those giving testimony are members of the group Iraq Veterans Against the War. But their stories are self-depricating to the extreme. Shame and guilt are the themes that dominate these narratives, not political ambition. They witnessed the horrors of war, and now they oppose it. A simple message, but one that can be too easily lost in today's world of partisan rhetoric.
Their narratives will help Americans understand what it is that plagues so manyÂ veterans of the "War on Terror", and may continue to plague them for life. Inside of their head of many veterans the war continues, even long after they come home. Second by second, minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day, and year by year. For the rest of us wars come and go - they have definitive endings. But for some veterans, the war never ends. It replays in their mind forever.
This mental toll on veterans is one of the hidden costs of war, one which politicians loath to acknowledge and the media tends to ignore. The story of Corporal Jeffrey Michael Lucey, as told by his parents - Joyce and Kevin - the negative impact that war can have not just on the lives of those who fight, but also on the lives of those who love them:
"My name is Joyce Lucey, and I'm the mom of Corporal Jeffrey Michael Lucey. The last month of his life, he had this flashlight by his bedside, and he was looking for the camel spiders that he could hear running around the room. And when he went over to Iraq, he asked me to hold this coin for him every day, so he'd come home safely. I had no idea that it was after he came home that I should have been holding this coin."
"Jeffrey's death should never have happened. The young man, who in January of 2003 was sent to Kuwait to participate in an invasion in which he did not agree, was not the same young man that stepped off the bus in July. Our Marine physically returned to us, but his spirit died somewhere in Iraq. As we celebrated his homecoming, Jeff masked the anger, the guilt, the confusion, pain and darkness that are part of the hidden wounds of war behind his smile."
"Jeff was in Kuwait with the 6th Motor Transportation Battalion. He was a convoy driver. On the 20th of March, he entered in his journal, which I have here, "At 10:30 p.m., a scud landed in our vicinity. We were just falling asleep when a shockwave rattled through our tent. The noise was just short of blowing out your eardrums. Everyone's heart truly skipped a beat, and the reality of where we are and what's happening hit home." The last entry is, "We now just had a gas alert, and it's past midnight. We will not sleep. Nerves are on edge." The invasion had begun, and Jeff never had time to put another entry in."
"Several months after his return, he said that he would like to complete it. We never knew that he did notâ€”he would never get the time to do that. Our fear the whole time he was over there was that he would be physically harmed. We never imagined that an emotional wound could and would be just as lethal."
"The letters we received from him were brief and sanitized. But to his girlfriend of six years, he said in April of 2003 he felt he had done immoral things and that he wanted to erase the last month of his life. "There are things I wouldn't want to tell you or my parents, because I don't want you to be worried. Even if I did tell you, you'd probably think I was just exaggerating. I would never want to fight in a war again. I've seen and done enough horrible things to last me a lifetime." This is the baggage that my son carried with him when he stepped off that bus that sunny July day at Fort Nathan Hale, New Haven, Connecticut."
"Over the next several months, we missed the signs that Jeffrey was in trouble. We had no way of knowing that during his post-deployment briefing at Camp Pendleton he was told to watch the direction that he was going in his survey, or else he'd be kept there another two to four months. He was careful from then on."
"In July, he went to the Cape with his girlfriend, and she found him rather distant. He didn't want to walk the beach. He later told a friend at college that he had seen enough sand to last him a lifetime. At his sister's wedding in August, he told his grandmother, "You could be in a room full of people, but you could feel so alone." He resumed college in 2003. That fall, we found out that Jeff had been vomiting just about every day since his return, and that kind of kept up right until the day he died."
"On Christmas Eve, his sister came home early to see how he was doing. He had been drinking. He was standing by the refrigerator, and he grabbed his dog tags and he tossed them to her, and he called himself a murderer. We were to find out that these dog tags included two Iraqi soldiers that he feelsâ€”or he knows he's personally responsible for their deaths. His private therapist, who saw him the last seven weeks of his life, said he didn't wear them as a trophy, but he wore them to honor these men. He had a nightmare in February. He told me he was having a dream that they were coming after him in an alleyway. After his death, we kind of checked the VA records, and he had talked to them also about having nightmares in which he was running from alleyway to alleyway."
"Spring break 2004 began, three months in which our family watched the son and brother we knew fall apart. He was depressed and drinking. When college classes resumed, he found attending classes very difficult. He had panic attacks, feeling that the other students were staring at him, even though he realized they weren't. He was placed on Klonopin and Prozac to see if it could keep him in class. Jeff's problems just worsened. He was having trouble sleeping, nightmares, poor appetite, isolating himself in his room. He was unable to focus on studies, so he could take hisâ€”so he could not take his finals. An excellent athlete, his balance was badly compromised by the mixture of Klonopin and alcohol."
"He confided in his younger sister that he had a rope and a tree picked out near the brook behind our home, but told her, "Don't worry. I'd never do that. I wouldn't hurt Mom and Dad." He was adamant that the Marines not be told, fearing a Section 8 and not wanting the stigma that is connected to PTSD to follow him throughout his life."
"He finally went to the VA, after being assured that they were not part of the military and would not relay any information without Jeff's permission. His dad called and explained what was happening with our son, and they said it was classic PTSD and that he should come in as soon as possible. The problem was getting Jeffrey to actually go in. It wasâ€”he kind ofâ€”every day it was "Tomorrow. I'll go in tomorrow. I'm tired." He just didn't have the energy to get up. The day he went in, he blew up .328, and it was decided he needed to stay. As it was decided he needed to stay, it took six employees to take Jeffrey down. He had gotten out the door and ran out into the parking area."
"Involuntarily committed for four days, the stay did nothing but make him feel like he was being warehoused. After seeing an admitting psychiatrist, he would not see another one until the day of his discharge. After answering in the affirmative that he was thinking of harming himself and revealing the three methodsâ€”overdose, suffocation or hangingâ€”he was released on June 1st, 2003, a Tuesday. We found out later that he told them on Friday, the day that he was admitted, that he had a hose to choke himself. None of this was ever relayed to us."
"They told us while he was there that he would not be assessed for PTSD until he was alcohol-free. But Jeffrey was using this alcohol as self-medication, and he had told us often that's the only way he could sleep at night. That we mightâ€”and the VA said that we might have to consider kicking him out of the house so he would hit rock bottom and then realize he needed his help. That wasn't an option for us."
"On his discharge interview, Jeff said there were three phone calls that the psychiatrist took, one of them being just before he was going to tell her about the bumps in the road, the children they were told not to stop their vehicles for and just not to look back. He decided not to, after she took the call, feeling she wasn't really interested."
"On June 3rd, on a Dunkin' Donut runâ€”and this was two days after he was released from the hospitalâ€”he totaled our car. Was it a suicide attempt? We're never going to know. No drinking was involved. I was terrified I was losing my little boy. I asked him where he was. He touched his chest, and he said, 'Right here, Mom.'"
"On the 5th, he arrived at HCC, Holyoke Community College, where he was a student. But because of not taking the finals, he would not be graduating. But he arrived there to watch the graduation of his sister. This was supposed to be his graduation also. How he drove his car there, we'll never know. He was so impaired. We managed to get him home, but his behavior got worse. He was very depressed."
"My parents, who saw their grandson often, never saw him like this. His sisters and brother-in-law and my dad took him back to the VA. He did not want my husband to go, because he felt he was going to be involuntarily committed again. They were waiting for him, but he refused to go in the building. He was intelligent, didn't want to get committed again like the weekend before. They decided, without consulting someone with the authority to commit him involuntarily, that he was neither suicidal or homicidal, there was nothing they could do. Our daughters called home in a panic saying it didn't look like they were going to keep their brother. In their records, they say the grandfather pleaded for someone to help his grandson. Neither our veterans nor their families should ever have to beg for the care they should be entitled to."
"My father lost his only brother in World War II. He was twenty-two years old. He was now watching his only grandson self-destructing at twenty-three because of another war."
"Kevin and I went through the rooms when we knew Jeff was coming back. We took his knives, bottles, anything we felt he could harm himself with, a dog leash. I took a stepstool, anything that I thought could trigger something in his mind. His car was disabled not only to protect himself, but to protect others from Jeffrey. Kevin called the civilian authorities. They said they can'tâ€”"We can't touch him. He's drinking." My child was struggling to survive, and we didn't know who to turn to. There was no follow-up call from the VA, no outreach, though they knew he was in crisis. We had no guidanceâ€”what to say to him, how to handle his situation. You hear a lot about supporting our troops, but I'll tell you: we felt isolated, abandoned and alone."
"While the rest of the country lived on, going to Disney World, shopping, living their daily lives, our days consisted of constant fear, apprehension, helplessness, while we watched this young man being consumed by this cancer that ravaged his soul. I sat on the deck with this person who was impersonating my son and listened to him while he recounted bits and pieces of his time in Iraq. Then he would grind his fist into his hand, and he'd say, 'You could never understand.'
"On Friday, June 11th, around midnight, my daughter got a call from a girl down the street. She asked me, "Where's your son?" And I said, "Debs, he's in his room. He's sleeping." Well, apparently not. He had climbed out the window and gotten into this girl's car. He wanted some beer. She wasâ€”this girl who had known Jeffrey all her life was a little bit scared of him. When I saw him get out of the car, I froze. Jeff was inâ€”dressed in his cammies with two k-bars, a modified pellet gun, which the police wouldn't know, and carrying a six-pack. He had just wanted that beer. There was a sad smile on his face like a lost soul. When I told him how concerned I was about him, he said, 'Don't worry, Mom. No matter what I do, I always come back.'"
"So later that evening, we had decided that we were going to try to go out, because he had become reclusive in the house. We were going to try to go out for a steak dinner the following night. At about 11:30, quarter to 12:00, Jeffrey asked me, for the second time within the past ten days, if he could just sit in my lap and I could rock him for aboutâ€”well, for a while. And we did. We sat there for about forty-five minutes, and I was rocking Jeff, and we were in total silence. As his private therapist that we had hired said, it was his last harbor and his last place of refuge."
"The next day, I came home. It was about quarter after 7:00. I held Jeff one last time, as I lowered his body from the rafters and took the hose from around his neck."
Last year I worked as an interning staff assistant at the local Congressional office in Dover, New Hampshire. Part of my job was to talk with constituents, recording their concerns for the record and forwarding their questions to relevant staff members. The vast majority of these comments came from people who were either pleased or displeased with the various positions that my Congresswoman had taken on some issue or another. But the ones that stay with me are the calls and visits from veterans and their families, desperate for help. Desperate just to have someone listen to their tales of woe.
The impression I was left with was that our government - and particularly the military and the Veterans Administration - has a tendency to systematically abandon veterans when they need help the most. It seems inexplicable that those who have suffered so much for our country should be denied care based upon some bureaucratic rule or another. Imagine being turned away from care because you forgot to fill out "Form A" or "Form B" thirty years ago. Or worse, because your paperwork was "lost". The veterans I met were all remnants of the Vietnam War, still suffering alone thirty years or more years after they came home. A few were lucky - they had the support of families who helped to share their burden. Many did not. They have truly been forgotten.
The questions that they asked most often always began with one word. "Why?" This was a question I could not answer.
It shames me to think that we as a nation are in the process of creating another generation of forgotten soldiers. We'd like to believe that even if we oppose the war we still support the troops. But how much attention is being payed to those who do make it home alive? When was the last time you even heard the media mention how many soldiers have been wounded in Iraq - never mind detail the fate that awaits them at home?
America was told that this would be a fast, convenient war. It has been anything but that. Our country will be living with the repurcussions of this war for decades to come.
I recommend that those who read this article listen to the testimonials provided by those who served our nation in Iraq and Afghanistan, regardless of where you stand on the war.
Listen Now At:
Iraq Veterans Against the War
David Anderson is a political correspondent for Gather.com. You can read all of David's past correspondent articles by clicking here
by David Green
October 17, 2006
Reflections on the 5th Anniversary of the Iraq War: The Hidden Costs of War
March 20, 2008 09:42 PM UTC (Updated: May 02, 2008 08:38 AM UTC)views: 0 comments: 35
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