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Toll on U.S. Troops in Iraq Grows as Wounded Rolls Approach 10,000
By Roger Roy
The Orlando Sentinel
Friday 28 November 2003
(KRT) - Nearly 10,000 U.S. troops have been killed, wounded, injured or become ill enough to require evacuation from Iraq since the war began, the equivalent of almost one Army division, according to the Pentagon.
Unlike the more than 2,800 American fighting men and women logged by the Defense Department as killed and wounded by weapons in Iraq, the numbers of injured and sick have been more difficult to track, leading critics to accuse the military of under-reporting casualty numbers.
Military officials deny they are fudging the numbers. But the latest figures show that 9,675 U.S. troops have been killed, wounded, injured such as in accidents, or become sick enough to require airlifting out of Iraq.
"I don't think even that is the whole story," said Nancy Lessin of Boston, the mother of an Iraq war veteran and co-founder of Military Families Speak Out, a group opposed to the war in Iraq.
"We really think there's an effort to hide the true cost in life, limb and the mental health of our soldiers," Lessin said. "There's a larger picture here of really trying to hide and obfuscate what's going on, and the wounded and injured are part of it."
The number of sick and injured is almost certainly substantially higher, because the figures provided by the military last week include totals only through Oct. 30.
Virginia Stephanakis, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Army surgeon general, said there has been no effort to manipulate the casualty statistics.
"I can reassure you that these are the best figures we have," Stephanakis said. "We're certainly not playing with the numbers or trying to downplay them."
As of Friday, 2,401 U.S. troops were listed as wounded in Iraq since the war began in March. At least 424 have died in combat or in accidents.
Another 2,464 suffered nonbattle injuries, which would include everything from accidental gunshots to broken bones and vehicle accidents, Stephanakis said.
And another 4,397 troops have been evacuated from Iraq to U.S. military hospitals - usually in Germany - for treatment of medical problems not related to wounds or injuries.
They include 290 treated for urological problems such as kidney stones - thought by many soldiers to be caused by drinking large quantities of high-mineral bottled water during the blistering summer in Iraq. Another 299 were treated for heart problems and 249 for gastrointestinal illnesses.
Another 504 troops were evacuated for treatment of psychiatric problems.
Stephanakis could not say how many of the psychiatric cases have been diagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder, a debilitating mental condition that can strike troops who have been in combat or a war zone.
"I have no breakdown," she said. "Most are related to what people call combat stress, depression, anxiety."
The Pentagon is not expected to release any updated figures on noncombat wounded, sick and injured until early next month.
Some critics accuse the military of low-balling its figures to curb criticism of the war.
"I think it's a general reluctance to be forthcoming," said Wilson "Woody" Powell, a Korean War veteran and executive director of Veterans for Peace, a St. Louis antiwar organization.
"There are ways of shaping numbers," Powell said. "You can do a lot just by omitting a few things now and then."
For example, critics said, the figures released by the Army do not include men and women whose injuries or illnesses were treated in Iraq, but only those who required transfer to medical facilities outside Iraq.
Some troops who have been wounded in bomb or mortar attacks have been awarded the Purple Heart, but their wounds were not serious enough to require them to be evacuated.
And Lessin said the reported number of troops treated for psychiatric problems does not include those who didn't seek treatment until they returned home.
Since April, the military says, at least 17 U.S. troops have committed suicide in Iraq, and the cause of at least two dozen other noncombat deaths had not been determined.
Stephanakis acknowledged the figures don't include every troop injury and illness from the war in Iraq. But because the military medical system was designed to give only enough treatment in Iraq to stabilize patients, then transfer them to facilities in Europe or the United States, virtually every serious injury or illness is included in the numbers, she said.
And some troops were taken to medical facilities in Europe for minor procedures not available in Iraq, Stephanakis said.
For example, 319 troops were evacuated for gynecological treatments, some of which may have been minor procedures, she said.
"It's easier for us to evacuate them to Germany than to keep a gynecologist in Baghdad," Stephanakis said.
And although accidents have killed and seriously injured hundreds of troops in war-time Iraq, even in peace time, military accidents claim many lives.
In 1999, the latest year for which statistics were available, 761 U.S. troops died around the world out of a military population of about 1.4 million, according to the Defense Department. Most of those deaths - 411 - were caused by accidents, with illness claiming another 126 lives and self-inflicted wounds, 110.
Even so, according to the Defense Department statistics, the death rate among troops that year was less than half the death rate in 1980.
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