More than 85,000 U.S. soldiers who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan have sought medical care from the Department of Veterans Affairs after getting back, that department told Congress Thursday. That is an increase of 52,000 GIs since last summer -- last July the VA said 35,000 vets from Iraq and Afghanistan had sought medical treatment from the department.
"As of February 2005, the VA had data on 360,674 (veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan) who had separated from active duty," John Brown, director of the Seamless Transition Office at the VA told a House panel. "Approximately 24 percent of these veterans, 85,857, have sought health care from the VA."
Brown said about half of the vets getting treatment from the VA were career soldiers and the other half were reserve troops activated for war.
Some of those soldiers were presumably not wounded and wanted to see doctors for other problems after getting home, but the new data sheds more light on the somewhat shocking size and scope of the wars beyond just the statistic of 140,000 soldiers in Iraq that seems to be most common in U.S. newspapers.
Last month, Salon reported that well over 1 million GIs have served in Iraq and Afghanistan since 9/11. And about one-third of those who have fought have done so more than one time. A retired general said the numbers are a sign that the United States is burning through its ground troops at a dangerous clip, threatening to grind down the Army to a level not seen since just after Vietnam.
Not all of those 85,000 GIs were wounded. The number includes those who have served in war and come back home to be released from military service but still need healthcare, soldiers seeing doctors for problems unrelated to war and wounded folks who are on active duty and being treated in military hospitals, like the Army's Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
The Department of Veterans Affairs takes care of soldiers even after they leave the military. There are a number of reasons people are released from the Army (though fewer are being released since the Pentagon instituted a "stop-loss" policy), but one is to have been wounded or injured or have some other medical problem.