Photo: US Army
I know a man. Call him Eddie. He’s African American, going on about 63. When he was a boy he had no real home or much education, so when he was eighteen he took the only option available to him. He joined the military. That was 1967.He must have been a hell of a soldier. He ended up in the Army’s 1st Cavalry Division. (One of the toughest outfits around.)
In February of 1968 he fought in the battle of Hue during the Tet offensive. He was in non-stop firefights for three weeks. He said half his platoon were killed or wounded. He told me about the time he held onto a fellow soldier, while he bled to death from a sniper round through the throat.
After the Tet Offensive his tour was up, but for some stupid reason (probably a few thousand dollars) he did a second tour. In April of 1968 he went back “up country” with the 1st Cav. This time he fought in the A Shau Valley. (This was referred to at the “Valley of Death”. The fighting was as bad as any combat in history). He once talked of the time that he spent a night in a bomb crater with two dead comrades while the Viet Cong were shooting AK47s with green tracers over his head. He also talked about killing his enemy in hand-to-hand combat. His buddies did the same. For some reason, Eddie walked away from it.
But he was a broken man. He has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He has never been able to function properly. He is afraid of everything. On the Fourth of July he has to be sedated. He’s terrified by the noise of the fireworks.
The Army never questioned that he was damaged goods, and that it was his time in battle that was responsible. They gave him antidepressants; after a while he got a half disability pension. Life was just a struggle. Eight years ago I banged on a bunch of doors and helped him get a full disability pension. He’s OK these days, sort of.
I bring up Eddie’s story in connection with a new report from the Congressional Budget Office (CBO).
The wars we fight today are no different than those of 1968, or any other war. Almost one in four (21%) of our soldiers are coming home with PTSD.
The CBO attempts to come up with a price on this. By its calculation, it costs an average of $10,000 per year for each soldier with PTSD. Given that 2.3mm troops have cycled through our wars the past 10 years we can expect a bill for at least $5 billion a year for just those with PTSD. For how long? The CBO reports that 80+% of those with PTSD were still in need of treatment after four years. For Eddie, it’s been 40 plus years now.
Of course the CBO numbers don’t measure the real cost. What is the cost of a busted life? You can’t put a number on it.
We have some very big debts to pay to the soldiers that have come home recently. (Don’t blame them for wars – they just fight them.) I’m concerned that we will renege on those promises. I think the CBO is too, that’s probably why it wrote the report.
I’m writing about this because the CBO report reminded me of Eddie. And that got me to thinking how fucking stupid these wars have been.
Note: PTSD is just a fraction of the total costs of taking care of our Vets
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