High survival rate for wounded in Iraq presents new challenges: Health-care cost may total $650B, an economist says
THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
More than 3,500 Americans have died in Iraq, but tens of thousands more are coming home, some tragically wounded. This week The Associated Press begins the first of an occasional series that looks at those who survived, the scars that they bear and what their long-term care will mean.
More than 800 of them have lost an arm, a leg, fingers or toes. More than 100 are blind. Dozens need tubes and machines to keep them alive. Hundreds are disfigured by burns, and thousands have brain injuries and damaged minds.
These are America’s war wounded, a toll that has received less attention than the 3,500 troops killed in Iraq. Depending on how you count them, they number between 35,000 and 53,000.
More of them are coming home, with injuries of a scope and magnitude the government did not predict and is now struggling to treat.
“If we left Iraq tomorrow, we would have the legacy of all these people for many years to come,” said Dr. Jeffrey Drazen, the editor-in-chief of the New England Journal of Medicine and an adviser to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. “The military simply wasn’t prepared for its own success” at keeping severely wounded soldiers alive, he said.
Survival rates today are even higher than the record levels set early in the war, because of body armor and better care. For every American soldier or Marine killed in Iraq, 15 others have survived illness or injury there.
Unlike in previous wars, few of them have been shot. The signature weapon of this war – the improvised explosive device, or IED – has left a signature wound: traumatic brain injury.
Soldiers hit in the head or knocked out by blasts – “getting your bell rung” is the military euphemism – sometimes have no visible wounds but a fog of war in their minds. They can be addled, irritable, depressed and unaware they are impaired.
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