Today is our 3,170th day in Iraq, and our 3, 698th 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): 4483
Since "Mission Accomplished" (5/1/03): 4344
Since Handover (6/29/04): 3624
Since Obama Inauguration (1/20/09): 255
Since Operation New Dawn: 55
Other Coalition Troops - Iraq: 319
US Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,838
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 972
Contractor Employee Deaths - Iraq: 1,487
Journalists - Iraq : 348
Academics Killed - Iraq: 448
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 281, 365, 925, 000 .00
We'll follow up this morning on a couple of long-running stories we've been tracking. Of course we'll start in Iraq, but we'll go back 20 years to Operation Desert Storm. At long last, the government seems to be standardizing a list of symptoms
and suggested treatments for those suffering from Gulf War Syndrome. With two decades in the rear-view mirror, it's about damn time.
WASHINGTON — Twenty years after the end of the Persian Gulf War, the Department of Veterans Affairs plans to standardize and improve treatment for the one of four veterans who suffer from a multi-symptom illness that could have been caused by environmental exposures.
The VA has created a pilot program starting this week in Salt Lake City aimed specifically at caring for Gulf War veterans, and it vowed to improve training, data collection, research and communication for that group.
The department will distribute pocket cards explaining symptoms and possible exposures to medical staff.
The VA has created two positions in the Office of Research and Development to deal with health-related issues possibly arising from the Gulf War or other deployments.
A report, released by the VA’s Gulf War Veterans’ Illnesses Task Force, lays out a proposed plan to address veterans’ concerns.
“This report provides a road map for our continued enhancements in our care and services we provide to Gulf War veterans,” VA Secretary Eric Shinseki said in a statement. “We will be applying lessons learned from this report to veterans of all eras.”
The proposal comes after years of research that mistakenly pointed to stress as the cause of symptoms such as chronic fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pain, chronic diarrhea and mysterious rashes.
Last year, the VA issued a 32-page training letter documenting possible environmental exposures found during the Gulf War and in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan that could result in troops’ illness.
Those exposures included burn pits that consumed as much as 240 tons of trash a day, particulate matter from dust storms and carcinogenic chemicals left behind by Iraqi troops.
Recent research has shown a connection between Gulf War veterans who used pesticides and anti-nerve agent pills to veterans who have higher rates of Gulf War illness.
It's interesting that the above story mentions burn pits; it's a common practice in the military to incinerate all manner of things from ordinary trash, to waste oil and munitions, to human waste. You could probably guess that it's bad to be near these places, but the military has long denied any connection to sickness or disease. There was another recent study
that continues to declare the link "inconclusive".
WASHINGTON -- Researchers studying troops' respiratory problems released findings Monday that suggested poor air quality in Iraq and Afghanistan may be a bigger threat to servicemembers' long-term health than exposure to toxic smoke from burn pits. But they caution that their work still leaves many questions unanswered.
The report, requested by the Department of Veterans Affairs and conducted by the Institute of Medicine, found that particulate matter in the air around the infamous Joint Base Balad burn pit at the height of the Iraq War included dangerous particulate matter that could cause long-term respiratory illnesses.
But the researchers said that likely came from background sources -- "windblown dust combined with elemental carbon and metals that arise from transportation and industrial activities" -- and not the burn pit's toxic smoke. With that factored in, the study found no additional threat from the plastic, metal and other waste being burned in the waste fires.
However, study authors were quick to point out that those conclusions aren't meant to prove that working and living around burn pits was safe. Researchers complained that air-quality monitoring data supplied by the Defense Department was limited in usefulness, and only gave a partial picture of what chemicals troops may have been exposed to.
The authors recommend a follow-up study of the health records of troops stationed at Balad, both before and after the burn pit was phased out in 2009, to better determine what long-term risks they face.
Earlier this month, a study in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine suggested that defense and VA researchers begin using the term "Iraq/Afghanistan War Lung Injury" for the high rates of respiratory illnesses among returning troops. But that research also didn't isolate whether the problem was from the frequent use of burn pits or other environmental problems in the war zone.
Finally this morning, we'll change gears a bit and check in on the gays. Since DADT was repealed, there's been a complete breakdown in military discipline; gays are showering with straight men and recruiting them hard, and as a result the marriage rate among active-duty personnel has seen a precipitous decline. Oh, no wait...my bad. It's been a non-event.
LAS VEGAS -- Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan kept it simple and sweet. She was eight months into a nine-month assignment in Kuwait, and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had just informed Congress that the U.S. armed forces were ready to integrate openly gay troops.
Morgan decided the time was right to come out to her commander. The photograph of her wife and 4-year-old daughter she kept hidden on her desk helped her do it.
"I said, `Sir, I would like to introduce you to someone. This is my family,' " Morgan recalled of her July conversation with her boss, an Army colonel leading a 2,400-Soldier brigade. "He said, `Charlie, you have a beautiful family. You know, "don't ask, don't tell" prevented me from getting to know you.' "
Nearly four weeks after the U.S. lifted its ban on open service by gay men, lesbians and bisexuals, similar stories of secret-shedding, relief and acceptance were swapped Saturday at the first-ever national convention of gay military personnel on active duty.
Each of the 200 or so Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines attending the conference put on by the formerly clandestine group known as OutServe had, to varying degrees, only recently revealed their sexual orientations at work. None had gotten a reaction worse than a shrug.
"Out of the 4,500 members we have, we haven't had any person come to us about one single problem, which is huge, because right before repeal of `don't ask, don't tell,' we had tons of problems," like investigations and other issues relayed to the Pentagon, said Air Force 1st Lt. Josh Seefried, the group's co-founder. "But right now, after Sept. 20, there is nothing to relay because everything has been 100 percent positive."
Senior Airman Kody Parsons, a substance abuse counselor at an Air Force base in Fairfield, Calif., came out to his superiors a week and a half ago because he thought they should know he was attending the OutServe conference.
They thanked him for speaking up, supported his trip to Las Vegas and asked him to let him know if they could help in any way. Parsons called it "a nonevent."
"I think it's very important to ensure nothing changes for fear of reinforcing the stigma that, `Well now that the gays are here, look out,' " he said. "My sexual orientation doesn't have any effect on my ability to do my job, and they recognize that."
And so...as we head into Thanksgiving, please take a moment and remember to be thankful for our servicemembers out there on the front lines...and be thankful that for many, this will be the last Thanksgiving away from home.