Are Multiple Combat Tours Akin To Russian Roulette?
by James Glaser
April 7, 2008

I have heard of Soldiers and Marines who have done five tours between Iraq and Afghanistan, but I haven't met any personally. The other day though I was talking to a man who had just returned from his fourth, and believe me he was not looking forward to another day in a combat zone.

Here is part of an article by Thom Shanker of the New York Times, on the rising stress on our troops who are making multiple tours in Bush's War on Terrorism.

Among the 513,000 active-duty soldiers who have served in Iraq since the invasion of 2003, more than 197,000 have deployed more than once, and more than 53,000 have deployed three or more times, according to a separate set of statistics provided this week by Army personnel officers. The percentage of troops sent back to Iraq for repeat deployments would have to increase in the months ahead.

The Army study of mental health showed that 27 percent of noncommissioned officers—a critically important group—on their third or fourth tour exhibited symptoms commonly referred to as post-traumatic stress disorders. That figure is far higher than the roughly 12 percent who exhibit those symptoms after one tour and the 18.5 percent who develop the disorders after a second deployment, according to the study, which was conducted by the Army surgeon general's Mental Health Advisory Team.

There are thousands, no, make that tens of thousands of veterans from every war getting help with their mental health after being in a combat zone. It is nothing new, but in George Bush's wars, the numbers of vets asking for help appears to be higher. There are probably a number of reasons for this, but I am sure that combat tour, after combat tour, after combat tour, figures in on that heavily.

What happens to our military when over 25% of the non-commissioned officers are suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? There isn't a pill the VA can give these men and women so that they can go back and fight again.

If you have been to combat before, you have to ask how many troops have been killed or maimed because of mistakes made by those in charge who should not be in combat due to their mental health?

It stands to reason that if two tours of combat are harder on a soldier's mental health than one tour, and three or more compound the situation, what do you think will happen when our troops start on their seventh or eighth tour? Will we have a complete breakdown in the chain of command? Just how many tours can we expect a Soldier or Marine to make?

Here is something we should all be thinking of—it wasn't until 1993, that the medical costs for World War II veterans reached its peak. With the tens of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan veterans already on disability, and tens of thousands more multiple tour veterans showing signs of needing mental health care, what are the costs to care for these veterans going to be for the next fifty plus years?

Mental health care is just one aspect of the health care that will have to be provided for our returning veterans from Afghanistan and Iraq. With better combat zone first aid and advanced medical techniques employed, we have fewer troops killed, but more troops looking at a life-time of total disability. We have no numbers for the troops returning with traumatic brain injuries (TBI), but the fact that the VA Hospital system is opening wards just for those brain injuries tells us the numbers are high.

Along with the new TBI wards, Congress has funded the doubling of Community Vet Centers, and has increased funding for VA Hospital and Clinic Mental Health Units. This increase of funding today is a forecast that future VA Hospital costs are going to rise for decades to come. Help for Post Traumatic Combat Stress takes decades and traumatic brain injuries usually are not "fixed."

So, what the heck is one more tour? It can very well mean the end of life as you and your loved ones know it. Even if you beat all the odds and are not killed or badly maimed in combat, the chances of losing your mental health get greater and greater with each new tour. I believe there is a name for this game Washington and the Pentagon are playing with our troops. It is called Russian roulette.

Free JavaScripts provided
by The JavaScript Source

BACK to the 2008 Politics Columns.