US and Allied Wounded

As in every war, in Iraq and Afghanistan the wounded are far more numerous than those killed. United States forces have suffered grievously as have allied forces. Common combat injuries have included second and third degree burns, broken bones, shrapnel wounds, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, paralysis, loss of sight and hearing, post traumatic stress disorder, and amputations.  

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How many have been injured? The true count of Americans injured or sickened in the war is much larger – by orders of magnitude – than the figures given on the official Department of Defense casualty website. That official total – over 52,000 – includes only those “wounded in action.” Not included are those suffering what are categorized as “non-hostile injuries” and other medical problems, which include heat stroke, suicide attempts, respiratory problems, and vehicle crashes. While some baseline number of injuries and illnesses would have occurred in any case, many of the latter should be considered a result of the wars, and therefore as much a combat injury, broadly speaking, as IED (improvised explosive device) injuries. 

The true numbers of the injured are significantly higher even than this, given that many problems are not diagnosed and treated until the injured return home.  Toxic dust exposure and resulting respiratory, cardiac, and neurological disease represent another large segment of war zone-induced illness that has yet to be fully recognized. 

Traumatic brain injury and PTSD are major issues among returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. For example, 15 percent of all Iraq and Afghanistan combat veterans were found to have suffered a traumatic brain injury [1]. According to the most recent data from the VA, approximately 30 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan vets accessing care were diagnosed with PTSD – compared with just 4 percent of returning veterans in the United Kingdom. High rates of PTSD among US veterans are alarming, but new evidence also suggests that military mental health providers use PTSD diagnoses to help returning soldiers receive assistance with a variety of problems they face reintegrating into their families and communities: joblessness, isolation, and drug and alcohol addictions among them. Veterans need many forms of support and health care to deal with a range of injuries – psychological and physical. They face difficulty receiving care due to a variety of problems: inadequate funding, overwhelming demand for health care and social services, the military’s arbitrary restrictions on allowing civilian health care providers to step forward and participate in military insurance programs, the public’s lack of understanding of what returning veterans have gone through, and the military’s offloading of care onto family members without compensating them.

All of this makes it very difficult to estimate the number of those US service members injured in the wars. Figures for the wounded among allied forces and contractors are even more difficult to come by. (Page updated as of October 2014) 

ARTICLE

[1] Michael S. Baker, “Casualties of the Global War on Terror and Their Future Impact on Health Care and Society: A Looming Public Health Crisis.” Military Medicine, Vol. 179, April 2014, pp. 348-55.

[2] Hannah Fischer, “A Guide to U.S. Military Casualty Statistics: Operation New Dawn, Operation Iraqi Freedom, and Operation Enduring Freedom.” Congressional Research Service, 7-5700, February 19, 2014.

[3] Luis Martinez, “U.S. Veterans:  By the Numbers,” (2011), http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/us-veterans-numbers/story?id=14928136#1.

INFOGRAPHIC

[1] Department of Defense, “Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) U.S. Casualty Status,” Fatalities as of: May 22, 2014, 10 a.m. EDT; Department of Defense, “Operation New Dawn (OND) U.S. Casualty Status,” Fatalities as of: May 22, 2014, 10 a.m. EDT; Department of Defense, “Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) U.S. Casualty Status,” Fatalities as of: May 22, 2014, 10 a.m. EDT, at http//www.defense.gove/news/casualty.pdf.

[2] Ibid.

[3] VBA Office of Performance Analysis and Integrity, “VA Benefits Activity, Veterans Deployed to the Global War on Terror,” VBA Data through Mar 2014, DMDC Data through Jan 2014. Prepared April 2014.