Feature

The casualties no one counts

The cost of the Iraq war is usually measured in dollars and lives lost, said Sarah Stillman. But the greatest toll of the war may be largely invisible: traumatic brain injuries suffered by tens of thousands of soldiers exposed to roadside bombs and other

Sarah StillmanThe New Republic Online

The cost of the Iraq war is usually measured in dollars and lives lost, said Sarah Stillman. But the greatest toll of the war may be largely invisible: traumatic brain injuries suffered by tens of thousands of soldiers exposed to roadside bombs and other concussive blasts. Traumatic brain injuries are the “signature wound” of this conflict, affecting more than 300,000 of the troops who’ve served in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to a new study by the RAND Corp. When a roadside bomb detonates, soldiers in a wide radius are hit with a blast wave that tears cerebral tissue and causes internal bleeding and swelling that cannot be detected. Soldiers who endure these traumas later “suffer from irreversible forms of cognitive free fall,” with gaps in their memory and their ability to speak, as well as depression, volatile moods, and even suicidal impulses. Official Army statistics show that five soldiers try to kill themselves every day, while a recently leaked e-mail from the Department of Veterans Affairs said that back in the U.S., about 1,000 veterans try to commit suicide every month. Let’s not forget these hidden casualties as we debate the costs and benefits of continued U.S. military presence in Iraq. 

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