One Name Behind All Those Numbers

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Air Force photo / Tech. Sgt. Adrian Cadiz

U.S. Army PFC Nira Williams drove trucks in a convoy like this in Iraq.

Nira Williams is a woman – an Army vet, now 25 –crushed by the nation she sought to serve.

But as the Pentagon‘s latest Medical Surveillance Monthly Report, makes clear, she is only one among hundreds of thousands. Back to former Private 1st Class Williams in a moment.

The just-issued Pentagon report’s lead article has an intriguing title:

Costs of war: excess health care burdens during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq (relative to the health care experience pre-war)

Battleland is always interested by folks on the inside trying to calculate the true costs of combat. In this case, MSMR discovers that the post-9/11 wars have generated

— 17,023,491 ambulatory visits

— 66,768 hospitalizations, and

— 634,720 hospital bed days

above historic peacetime levels.

Mental disorders accounted for nearly two-thirds of all estimated excess hospitalizations during the war period; and mental disorders and injuries/poisonings accounted for approximately 90 percent of all estimated excess hospital bed days. The predominance of these causes of excess hospitalizations and hospital bed days is not surprising, because they directly reflect the natures, durations, and intensities of the combat in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as the psychological stresses associated with prolonged and often repeated combat deployments.

…says the report, which acknowledges it is tabulating only a small part of the total bill (although it refrains from estimating how much this additional medical care costs):

The total health care burdens associated with the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are undoubtedly greater than those enumerated in this report because this analysis did not address care delivered in deployment locations or at sea, care rendered by civilian providers to reserve component members in their home communities, care of veterans by the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, preventive care for the sake of force health protection, and future health care associated with wartime injuries and illnesses.

Clearly, if all war-related health care – since the beginning of the war until the last war veteran dies – could be accounted for, the health care burden attributable to the war would be much greater than that documented in this report…unfortunately but inevitably, they will increase for decades after the cessation of war fighting.

That long windup was a way of painting, on a broad canvas, the hidden costs of war. Nina Burleigh, a former Time colleague-turned-pointillist, takes one of those two-hair brushes to paint a heart-breaking profile of Nira Williams in the latest issue of Businessweek.

Burleigh tells Battleland that Williams, a one-time Army private who served in Iraq, was “opiate-addicted thanks to the liberal dosages prescribed by medics in the field, witness to Fort Hood massacre, diagnoses of PTSD and multiple suicide attempts and ideation, military rehabs that failed, all verified by FOIA’ed records, and finally, a rape-charge incident, in which the alleged higher ranking perpetrator was never prosecuted for lack of evidence.”

The Army kicked Williams out of the service in 2010 because she was addicted, a vice the Army itself enabled and nurtured. “The nature of the discharge,” Burleigh says, “made her ineligible for VA benefits.”

Catch-22, obviously, didn’t die when Joseph Heller, author of the book by the same name, did two years before 9/11.