Today is our 3,957th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing war, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 2,071
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,048
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 360, 111, 600, 000 .00
I've got a mishmosh of things today with no real coherent thread, so we'll just dive right in. Starting with the economy....June and July were a mixed bag on the national front, although the surprising July jobs report resulted in a bump in the stock market (right into the 1%'s pocket!). Veterans have always lagged behind the rest of us in the job hunt, but there is some encouraging news
The job outlook for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans continues to brighten as the unemployment rate for the group fell for the sixth month in a row.
The unemployment rate for veterans who entered service after Sept. 11, 2001, fell to 8.9 percent in July, down from 9.5 percent the previous month and from 12.4 percent in July 2011, according to the latest monthly employment report released Friday by the Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Veterans of all generations also saw a sharp drop in their unemployment rate: the overall veterans jobless rate was 6.9 percent, down from 7.4 percent in June and 8.6 percent a year ago.
The national unemployment rate remained almost unchanged at 8.3 percent, up a tick from 8.2 percent in June.
But the economy added roughly 163,000 payroll jobs in July, more than twice the amount it added in June.
The drop in unemployment for veterans comes as corporations such as Goodyear, as well as the rail and mining industries, have pledged to hire veterans. The federal government also continues its push to expand opportunities for former service members.
The Health and Human Services Department announced Thursday a $2.3 million grant program to train physician assistants and help veterans transition from military to civilian PA jobs when they leave the service. The funds were awarded to 12 institutions to support educational programs to train PAs.
And on Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Talley, chief of the Army Reserve, signed an agreement to broaden job opportunities for reservists in the nation’s parks and outdoor spaces managed by Interior.
It's probably a good thing that more veterans are finding jobs. Most of these jobs are going to come with insurance...which some veterans are going to need more than others. In addition to the expected PTSD, adjustment issues, and other holdovers from war, there's now a report out that suggests that veterans may be at a higher risk of developing ALS.
A small number of studies have suggested military veterans may be at a higher risk for developing ALS.
It’s enough evidence that, in 2008, the Department of Veterans Affairs began setting aside benefits specifically for anyone who had been in the service and developed the disease.
Although benefits vary depending on service time and other factors, ALS was categorized as a “presumptively compensable illness.” In other words, veterans diagnosed with ALS are eligible for monthly disability pay and funds to modify their homes, vehicles to transport them, insurance for dependents and survivors’ benefits.
From January 2003 to September 2011, Veterans Affairs — prompted by anecdotal reports of young veterans returning from the Persian Gulf War and developing ALS — collected information and even blood samples from willing veterans with ALS, said Dr. Eugene Oddone, who ran the registry and is now director of the Center for Health Services Research in Primary Care at the VA Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
The goal was to determine whether ALS really was more prevalent among veterans and, if so, among which veterans and why. The results were mixed.
Several studies suggested an increased incidence among veterans whose service dated as far back as 1910. One study concluded that veterans were 50 percent more likely to develop ALS than the general population.
Still, “at the end of the day, we were talking about small numbers,” Oddone said.
Researchers also were unable to determine a single common denominator among those with ALS.
One study concluded they had slightly elevated lead levels in their blood, though it was unclear whether that was significant, Oddone said.
Other researchers over time have suggested, but never found conclusive evidence, that ALS is linked to head trauma, pesticides or burning oil fields.
It may be a genetic predisposition to ALS that is triggered by a number of factors, said Pat Wildman, director of public policy for the ALS Association, a Washington-based advocacy group.
“It’s a lot more complicated than we think, and there are probably a lot of factors at play,” he said.
Ah, but that's the troops on the ground. I ran across another story that is perhaps even more disturbing. It's something we all suspected....in that a drone pilot in Afghanistan admits "no emotional attachment"
to what he does on a daily basis. I suppose there is nothing even close for comparison in the civilian world. War has become a video game for some.
In a profile piece in the New York Times on Monday, interviews with military operators of US drones operating in the skies over Afghanistan and Pakistan reveal a class of pilots who remotely control the targeted killings of human beings thousands of miles away.
“I see mothers with children, I see fathers with children, I see fathers with mothers, I see kids playing soccer,” says Colonel Brenton, one of the pilots profiled who works out of a dark control room in the suburbs of Syracuse, New York.
But, when it comes to engaging the target and after stipulating this means that the children and mothers away from the fire zone -- for example, "out at the market" -- he says: "I feel no emotional attachment to the enemy. I have a duty, and I execute the duty.”
Citing a study conducted by the US military last year investigating the stresses on drone pilots, the Times reports that "of a dozen pilots, sensor operators and supporting intelligence analysts recently interviewed from three American military bases, none acknowledged the kind of personal feelings for Afghans that would keep them awake at night after seeing the bloodshed left by missiles and bombs."
But, it said, "all spoke of a certain intimacy with Afghan family life that traditional pilots never see from 20,000 feet, and that even ground troops seldom experience."
The profile, which recognizes the expansive nature of the US drone program, sharpens the reality that along with the proliferation of pilotless aerial warfare, the US military is training more and more remotely-located pilots it can ask to target "militants" by day and return safely home to their familes at night.
As is clear, the opposite is likely true of their Afghan counterparts, who -- after reading reports like this -- may only find fear, if not some sense of solace, when their children and families leave for "the market."
I don't know if soldiers with duties like that are better or worse off than those on the ground. Will they be able to simply process it as a "video game" as it were, and go back to civilian life, or will they become ticking time bombs among American civilians when they get home?