The Toll of Endless War on American Veterans

by on November 11, 2019 · 0 comments

in Under the Perfect Sun, Veterans, War and Peace

By Jim Miller

As America’s endless wars grind on, largely out of view, we have become good at bombastic displays of patriotism at ballgames and other public venues, but underneath our ritualized nods to the service of our veterans the unseen psychic toll suffered by those who fight our wars remains mostly invisible.

In fact, in the age of the all-volunteer military, most of us don’t really need to think that much about it.

Still the suffering is deep and pervasive, like it or not.  Many of us don’t know that one out of ten homeless people on the street is a veteran (with some estimates putting it much higher).  Thus, despite our official love of veterans, as a society we are clearly quite comfortable treating them like disposable people.  Think about that the next time you see somebody sleeping in a storefront doorway: perhaps that person risked their life for your country.

If that uncomfortable reality is not bad enough, consider the fact that the epidemic of suicide amongst American veterans is on the rise with about a 6 percent increase over the last 12 years or so.  As the Military Times notes, about 12 veterans kill themselves per day.   While there has been talk about the need to address post-traumatic stress and increase services, our national response to this crisis has been far weaker than our public demonstrations of gratitude would have us think.

What is perhaps the hardest for the majority of Americans who will never go to war to understand is the profound “moral injury” our wars inflict on those who do fight them (

Just last week a study out of UC Irvine addressed one of the great costs of war—grief .

After noting the 5,400 deaths in combat in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, UCI’s summary of the study goes on to observe that:

“While there has been abundant research quantifying war’s psychological impact, much of it has focused on PTSD, depression, and substance or alcohol abuse associated with combat exposure,” said lead author Pauline Lubens, who earned a doctorate in public health at UCI last year and is now a policy analyst at the Institute for Veteran Policy at Swords to Plowshares in San Francisco. “There has been limited focus on grief among veterans.”

Lubens and Silver conducted the study in 2016 and 2017 with combat veterans of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom from more than 35 states. Over two dozen took part in semi-structured interviews, and 178 completed an online survey. Levels of grief, including preoccupation with a lost comrade and inability to accept the loss, were determined by participants’ self-reported combat exposure, unit cohesion, PTSD symptoms, anger, past post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression diagnoses, and pre-deployment life events.

While this doesn’t fit neatly into our flyovers at football game celebrations of the military industrial complex, it IS what we really ought to be recognizing every Veterans Day—the horrible costs of war.  Perhaps then we’d be more motivated to move beyond superficial beer commercial worthy salutes to making sure we adequately fund the services veterans need, help get homeless vets off the streets, and make a lot better effort to stop producing more and more human suffering in the first place.



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