Many Iraq, Afghanistan veterans’ battle scars hidden

WASHINGTON — You’ve heard about wounded warriors from Iraq and Afghanistan. You’ve probably seen them.

In fact, you may have seen more of them than you think: Most of the wounded veterans from those wars were not hurt during combat.

Their injuries can also be quite serious, even if they don’t receive the same attention as the more visible wounds from guns, grenades and roadside bombs.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, national editor for the Washington Post, tells WTOP’s Shawn Anderson and Hillary Howard that some troops are dealing with lung problems from breathing in toxins and many other ailments.

“We’re talking about troops who had their backs busted and their knees hurt and their hips injured because of the heavy body armor they’ve been wearing — in many cases month after month, year after year,” Chandrasekaran says. “Gear that was designed to save their lives — which, in many cases it has — still leaves them with some degree of chronic pain, in some cases for the rest of their lives.”

Such infirmities are easily overlooked, he says, because the Pentagon doesn’t classify them as traditional battle wounds; Purple Hearts aren’t handed out for such injuries.

“I don’t want to say they’re forgotten, but they don’t show up in any tallies,” Chandrasekaran says, even though such injuries make up the vast majority of the wounds from America’s most recent wars.

The Post conducted a survey with the Kaiser Family Foundation that showed that about 1 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, out of 2.6 million total, are dealing with these issues. “That’s a huge percentage,” Chandrasekaran says.

The Veterans Administration and other military medical aid helps, Chandrasekaran says, but some veterans are falling through the cracks. “In some cases, there are no good treatments for some of the issues they’re facing,” he says.

Chandrasekaran writes about a veteran who has permanent, degenerative lung disease “because he was forced to enter into a giant pit of burning trash to go and shoot scavenging birds … today he’s tethered to an oxygen tube and faces the prospect of having to have a double lung transplant within the next five years.”

Recognition, and help from the government, is coming slowly, Chandrasekaran says, but he says the long-term cost of treatment is a sign of “the large and enduring cost of both of these wars … that American society will have to bear for decades to come.”

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