56,654 Hurt in Iraq

There have been so many lies told about the war in Iraq it is hard to keep track of them all: weapons of mass destruction, September 11th, and the escalation will bring about a political solution. There have been so many lies that Pinocchio's nose could stretch all the way to Baghdad, creating a bridge our service members could actually use to walk home.

So how do we begin this long walk back from Iraq and all of the lies? The obvious answer is to withdraw, and we should have begun that yesterday. Maybe it will start soon, but I have little faith that Congress will hit President Bush with their "change purse" to get the job done. So until the orders are signed and service members start coming home to their families, the way we begin to change things is by being steadfast with the truth.

We can start in one simple place, correcting the way we talk about the wounded in Iraq.

Almost every week the Department of Defense releases what they call Operation Iraqi Freedom U.S. Casualty Status report. Today, they reported 3,799 total deaths (that number has been reported to have climbed to 3,800 over the weekend) and the number of wounded in action has climbed to 28,009. This report also includes Afghanistan numbers: 438 killed and 1,607 wounded in action.

These are the familiar numbers we hear on the news and from the Administration, the Pentagon, leaders in Congress, and on the campaign trail. Reporters ask about the wounded and the Pentagon gives them the numbers.

The problem is 28,009 leaves out another 7,533 who have been injured and needed medical air transport and another 21,112 who have become ill and needed medical air transport. That's a total of 28,645 we don't count each week.

The total number of service members who have been wounded, injured, and stricken with a disease in Iraq is 56,654. The number we are used to hearing from the media and the Pentagon is incomplete by more than half. In Afghanistan, the number climbs to 6,815. Furthermore, it takes a Ph.D in math to figure out these totals and that's wrong.

So how come if every week we are honest and honor every life lost whether by a bullet, an IED, or by suicide, we ignore more than half who have been hurt in Iraq? Why don't we count them the same? If every week we are honest and open about the lives we lose, then we must be honest and open about the lives that hurt.

Since the days of "shock and awe," a myth was created that this war hasn't cost us much because of our smart weaponry and the best medical teams in theatre. That part of the myth is true. But the part that says that this war hasn't cost us much in lives and livelihoods is a lie.

Every week the Department of Defense (DoD) releases one report that addresses the service members who have been killed or wounded in action. And each month, DoD releases another report that's hidden in plain sight under "Personnel and Procurement Statistics." That is where they list the injured and sick.

Here are the links:

Some of those injuries might include service members who may have twisted a knee or who might have been in the 5th truck in a convoy that hit an IED or had their leg sliced off while working on the deck of a carrier in the Gulf. Some of those who have become sick with a disease and needed transport might have Leishmaniasis otherwise known as "Sandfly Disease" or cancer or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Most Americans probably believe that the wounded number they hear so often includes everyone who has been hurt in these wars, but it doesn't. The English language and U.S. Military language are often different. For example, with military language, there could be one incident with three different casualty categories. If a convoy is attacked by an IED, then the service members covered in shrapnel are considered wounded; the service member in another truck that crashes and loses a leg but doesn't get hit with shrapnel might be categorized as injured, and the service member who watches his friend burn in another truck and then falls apart with PTSD, might be labeled with a disease.

Is there a difference between a twisted knee and a traumatic brain injury, of course? But in that report, those who were injured and stricken with a disease were suffering enough to be medically evacuated out of Iraq and America will care for them for decades. One report from Harvard claims we could be caring for them for the next 40 years costing up to $700 billion and we owe them that care for their service.

We need to be honest about these numbers so that we can begin the hard work ahead: making sure the 1.5 million men and women who have been deployed since September 11, 2001 are taken care of for their service.

With 720,000 discharged veterans already, we have to plan. When 250,000 veterans have already reached out to the VA for care, we needed to get started with that plan yesterday, too. There's a reason why veterans wait months and months to see a doctor, Walter Reed was in shambles, and disability claims are backlogged for months. The Administration has been incompetent about veterans' care, too. Our veterans and their families need a voice and Democrats should lead and lead loudly on this.

How does a lowly speechwriter know all of this? I had the honor of working with some veterans in a few organizations: Veterans for America Veterans for Common Sense and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans for America These organizations need our support as they work to bring this war to an end and ensure that this new generation of veterans is not forgotten.

For that to begin, we must start with the truth. The war in Iraq has cost us dearly: 3,800 lives lost and 56,654 hurt. The numbers don't lie. People lie about the numbers. And after a somber September, it is time to bury the old partial numbers so that we can begin to give rise to the complete truth.