I am surprised that I have forgotten so much recent U.S. history.
But when I started research on this week's Veteran's Day column, I am reminded that, since the Vietnam War that ended more than thirty years ago, the U.S. has sent troops into battle or on peacekeeping missions in nine different engagements.
Suspecting that you, like me, cannot name them all without help, here in chronological order's the list:
In all, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, America has more than 25 million living veterans including 8 million from the Vietnam era. More than 4 million World War II veterans survive as well as an approximate 100 from World War I.
The consensus estimate is that about 1.5 million men and women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan with that figure increasing by 100,000 annually.
Based on Pentagon projections that U.S. involvement in the Middle East could continue another 8-12 years that will bring the total uniformed personnel to about 2.5 million.
Like others, I wonder what the U. S. goal is in Iraq. Last week, in a Washington Post op-ed piece, twelve former Army captains called for either a voluntary military to mount a more aggressive campaign against the insurgents or an immediate withdrawal. [The Real Iraq We Knew, Washington Post, October 16, 2007]
But what may await veterans when they return home is as frightening as what they encountered on the battlefield.
According to the website maintained by former E-5 Larry Scott Veterans For Common Sense, and based on government data reported by the Associated Press, at least 283 combat veterans who left the military between the start of the war in Afghanistan on October 7, 2001 and the end of 2005 took their own lives. And an additional 147 troops killed themselves in Iraq or Afghanistan since the wars began—total suicides, 430. [Iraq, Afghan Vets At Risk For Suicide, By Kimberley Hefling, Associated Press, October 31, 2007]
As appalling as that count is, it is incomplete. Excluded are members of the military who returned from Iraq and then killed themselves before being discharged from the service – men like Sgt Brian Rand who, after he returned from his second Iraqi tour, shot himself in the head.
Also not included are the deaths of people like Sgt. James Dean who was shot by Maryland state troopers after he barricaded himself in his father's farmhouse. Observers call those deaths "suicide by cop."
Because of a growing concern over veteran suicides, President Bush signed the Joshua Omvig suicide prevention bill on Monday, providing improved screening and treatment for at-risk veterans. Omvig was 22-year-old soldier from Iowa who, in December 2005 after he returned from Iraq, killed himself.
Suicides in Iraq have occurred since the early days of the wars. But awareness was heightened when the Army said its suicide rate in 2006 rose to 17.3 per 100,000 troops—the highest level in 26 years of record keeping.
Dr. Dan Blazer, a Duke University Medical Center psychiatry professor who served this year on the military's mental health task force, said improved treatment might help some.
But Blazer still treats World War II veterans for post-traumatic shock. So his concern for the Iraq and Afghanistan soldiers is high.
"There's still going to be individuals that just totally slip through all of these safety nets that we construct to try to help things in the aftermath," Blazer told the Associated Press.
Added Blazer: "Suicide is a cost of war. It's a big one."
The thought that a young man or woman could enlist and fight for their country in the Middle East, only to die at their own hand, is another ugly chapter in an increasingly senseless war.
The best thing that all of us can do for our veterans is—in the words of Woodbridge (CA)'s Stacey Beintema whose son Army Sgt. Nicholas Beintema was wounded in 2005 near Tal Afar during Operation Iraqi Freedom—to "say a prayer for each and every one of the brave men and women fighting oversees, and for their families who are fighting right along with them—fighting to bring them home safe and sound."
[JoeNote To VDARE.COM readers: For those of you interested in contacting veterans recently returned from Iraq or reading their answers to questions posed by other Americans, go to the New York Times "Home Fires" blog. Five veterans will address your comments. The link is here.]