Today is our 3,142nd day in Iraq, and our 3,670th day in Afghanistan.
We'll start this morning as we always do; with the latest casualty figures from our ongoing wars, courtesy of Antiwar.com:
Since war began (3/19/03): 4478
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03) 4338
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3619
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09): 250
Since Operation New Dawn: 49
Other Coalition Troops - Iraq: 318
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,811
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 956
Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq: 1,487
Journalists - Iraq : 348
Academics Killed - Iraq: 448
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 268, 352, 350, 000 .00
We'll only touch briefly upon the final withdrawal date from Iraq. You read it here first last week; it's very gratifying indeed to have the President confirm what were only rumours when we posted the initial story.
We'll focus on the home front today. Troops coming back from Iraq are still going to face the same problems that remain unresolved from last month, last year, and even 5 years ago. First and foremost is the transition back into society.
...There are now more than 1.7 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Of those, one in five is expected to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder or depression. Some of those veterans turn to alcohol or drugs; more and more wind up on the streets.
Even as the Army, VA and the community have stepped up efforts to help Soldiers and veterans who are struggling, the evidence is mounting that many are falling through the cracks:
At a VA summit in August, officials announced that shelters in Fayetteville would get 23 more beds for homeless veterans. According to numbers released at the summit, 350 veterans were awaiting shelter beds here and in Wilmington. The Fayetteville VA estimates that there are more than 500 homeless veterans in the Fayetteville area.
Fayetteville Area Operation Inasmuch counted 96 veterans among the 560 homeless people it fed breakfast in August, the first month it began tracking veterans. Nineteen of those veterans were 45 or younger. This month, the organization has counted 108 veterans, 22 of them 45 or younger.
A report dated Sept. 9 by the Greater Fayetteville Futures 2 Behavioral Health Task Force listed achievements in the past year that included grants to provide mental health training for nurses, physician assistants and primary-care doctors who sometimes treat patients with mental health problems. But it concluded that the main issue in behavioral health care in Fayetteville is a "huge unmet need for providers," one that has the potential "to reach a critical level as more Soldiers return home and attempt to integrate back into the community."
Last year, Womack Army Medical Center referred between 100 and 200 Soldiers a month to private counselors because it was slammed with people seeking help. Lt. Col. Jay Earles, Womack's behavioral health chief, said the number of people referred off-post has not declined this year despite a 30 percent increase in its behavioral health staff.
The numbers, advocates for the homeless say, show that Fayetteville is seeing only the beginning of a problem that will persist and grow.
"We're already seeing the tropical storm is here, and the tsunami is coming because of the 10 years of war and the impact that it's had on military members and their families," said Eva Hansen, president of the Partnership for Children of Cumberland County. Forty percent of the families Hansen works with are military families.
"There's a good-faith effort going on, but with very limited resources and diminishing resources," Hansen said...
Many efforts have been made over the years to improve the condition of returning vets. But...it wasn't a priority under the Republican administration, and while it may be more urgent under the current President...the obstructionists in Congress aren't helping matters any with their roadblocks.
But dealing with coming home isn't the only problem...veterans will need places to live, too. There is a facility in Los Angeles that was donated to the United States as a 'national home for veterans' that can accomodate up to 8,000 servicemembers. Incredibly...it's vacant and mostly abandoned.
Los Angeles (CNN) -- The connection seems obvious: nearly 400 acres of land set aside to house veterans and thousands of veterans who need a place to call home.
But Los Angeles' estimated 8,000 homeless vets have been barred from living at the sprawling campus for decades. The West Los Angeles property -- some of the most valuable in the nation -- was donated in 1888 to "establish, construct and permanently maintain" a branch of a national home for veterans, according to the original deed.
And for nearly a century, that's what happened: permanent veterans facilities sprang up, including a post office, a trolley system and housing for as many as 4,000 vets, said American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Mark Rosenbaum.
But "beginning with the Vietnam War era, vets were kicked out," said Rosenbaum, who's leading a class-action suit over the property against the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Now, a generation after Vietnam, the facility's abandoned buildings are off limits to the veterans they were intended to serve.
"It's a shame," said Carolina Barrie, a descendant of the heiress who donated the land. Veterans should be "given every single opportunity to rehab their lives -- and if they have no place to live, a place to live."
The VA saw fit to lease parts of the property to several businesses. In September, the VA canceled three leases after rising criticism. But other entities remain on the property including a public golf course, a college baseball stadium, a theater and practice fields for the exclusive private Brentwood School.
CNN's initial requests to the VA for its side of the lawsuit were referred to the Justice Department, which said it wouldn't comment while the case is still pending.
Accurate figures are hard to come by, but the VA in its most recent report estimates about 107,000 veterans find themselves homeless on any given night. Mental illness plagues 45% of homeless vets and 70% suffer from some kind of substance abuse, according to the VA.
Washington has OK'd $35.5 million to renovate various buildings on the campus including "Building 209 for housing facilities for homeless veterans," according to a bill signed by President Obama this month.
The facility would provide vets with 70 permanent housing units, far short of the living space needed to house LA's homeless vets.
The VA has launched an aggressive national plan with an ambitious goal: eliminating homelessness among veterans by 2015.
Of course, all those returning veterans are going to need jobs, too. Instead of just throwing money at it to fix it, why doesn't Washington think about something obvious...hire
those returning vets to fix up the place, and pay them to do so while they transition back to civilian life? Ah, but what do I know?
Finally this morning...even though the active-duty personnel are coming home, you didn't think we were really *leaving* Iraq, did you?
American troops may be leaving Iraq before the end of the year, but U.S. contractors aren’t going anywhere soon.
ABC News reports that the State Department “is expected to have about 5,000 security contractors in Iraq as of January 2012 (they already have about 3,000 in country).” There will also be 4,500 “general life support” contractors to provide food and medical services.
Still, there’ll be a pretty big reduction in the contracting fleet. The Defense Department currently has 9,500 security contractors in Iraq in addition to several thousand general life contractors, said ABC News. At one point, in June 2009, the DOD had 15,200 security contractors in the country.
The State Department’s track record on controlling its contractors isn’t so great, as Spencer Ackerman reports:
The State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security does not have a promising record when it comes to managing its mercenaries. The 2007 Nisour Square shootings by State’s security contractors, in which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed, marked one of the low points of the war. Now, State will be commanding a much larger security presence, the equivalent of a heavy combat brigade. In July, Danger Room exclusively reported that the Department blocked the Congressionally-appointed watchdog for Iraq from acquiring basic information about contractor security operations, such as the contractors’ rules of engagement.
This all comes on the heels of a report by the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan which found that federal contractors working in the two countries lost $60 billion.
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is planning to develop “comprehensive legislation”, alongside Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), to improve oversight of wartime contracting.
It may not be a uniformed soldier, but it does seem likely that an American will be the 'last man to die for a mistake'.