Father Lowell Andrews called us all to account in his Memorial Day invocation. He bid us remember those who gave their lives, but also those who have come home broken in body, wounded in spirit.
So many have died of these deep wounds, here among us — where they should have been safe.
“So many died filthy and alone. So many died of cheap whiskey, malnourished.
“So many have come home and prayed, ‘why couldn’t I have died in battle?’
“So many have come back to live with the loss of jobs, physical and mental health problems and the knowledge of what they had to do to other human beings,” concluded Father Andrews, himself a veteran.
Recent studies suggest that as many as 320,000 of the 2 million veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan may have suffered traumatic brain injuries, mostly as a consequence of surviving roadside bombings. An estimated 54,000 still exhibited symptoms a year after the injury. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimate includes some 200,000 cases of Post-traumatic stress disorder, 150,000 cases of depression and 127,000 cases of anxiety disorder.
Casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan now exceed 33,000, many with injuries that would have been fatal in any other conflict.
One recent tally of war deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan found that one in six were younger than 21, half were killed by bombs, 16 percent by enemy gunfire.
Some 300 returning Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are already homeless, with another 1,000 considered “at risk” of homelessness, according to a study by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
More than half of our warriors returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer medical and mental problems that need treatment, according to VA statistics.
Those recent figures echo an earlier RAND Report. That report estimated that one-third of the returning veterans will have to deal with some degree of PTSD, major depression or traumatic brain injury.
Those problems will likely grow with time, if the history of Vietnam era veterans is any guide.
Those figures demonstrate the terrible cost of those twin conflicts. One estimate by researchers from Brown University suggest the two wars will cost $4 trillion by the time we’re out, including $1 trillion to care for injured veterans. An estimated 225,000 have died — most of them civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Nearly 8 million people have fled their homes as a result of the fighting.
The Congressional Budget Office has put the cost of the war at $1.8 trillion through 2012, which the Brown University researchers branded a gross under estimate.
Some 6,400 U.S. troops have died plus 2,300 civilian contractors. Some 550,000 service members have filed disability claims.
Father Andrews made an eloquent plea on Monday — a call to honor for each of us.
We sent our best and most loyal to fight and die and serve up to eight tours. Many have returned injured — not in body and in flesh — but with wounds nonetheless. These valiant warriors must not be forgotten as these conflicts wind down.
But we learned one thing from our last quagmire: Hate the war, but honor the warrior. Those young men and women who rallied to the call and went back time after time at such cruel cost did not pause to weigh the cost. They simply answered the call of their country. Some died. Some wish they had. Most came home determined to live their lives as honorably as they served. All earned our commitment and support.
Father Andrews could not have said it better: “I ask you to remember and pray for them all, those who have given so much — the living and the dead.”