Today is our 3,9992nd 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: 2,114
Other Military Deaths - Afghanistan: 1,059
We find this morning's cost of war
passing through: $ 1, 371, 694, 150, 000. 00
We'll start on the home front this morning. We're all aware of TBI and PTSD, but there's been some research done in Boston about TBI leading to vision issues. It's just the tip of the iceberg
, and researchers here are working hard to identify more soldiers with the issues and more importantly, how to help them.
JAMAICA PLAIN, Mass. —
National Guard member Robert Harrington, serving in Iraq in 2004, was driving fellow soldiers to go on leave when his truck was attacked. He was knocked out by the powerful explosion.
"I don't remember much of it," said Harrington. "I thought I was just shaken up, but later on, I found out that I was diagnosed with traumatic brain injury."
Four years later and back at home in Winchendon, Mass., something still wasn't right.
"I couldn't read," said Harrington. "I would get headaches. I wasn't able to focus on the words."
Even worse, doctors couldn't find anything wrong.
"They checked my eyes and said, 'No, you have 20/20 vision,'" said Harrington. "I didn't know what it was. You begin to think that, you know, maybe it's me. Maybe I'm going crazy."
Eventually, Harrington found his way to the Veterans Administration, where researchers are uncovering a lesser-known, scary reality of traumatic brain injuries: vision problems.
"The studies range from 38 percent of soldiers with traumatic brain injury having visual impairment all the way up to 66 percent of soldiers," said Dr. Jennifer Gustafson, a staff optometrist at the Veterans Administration.
The VA estimates that there are nearly one million veterans coping with severe visual impairment. Among the newest generation of vets, most haven't been diagnosed or treated. Gustafson only sees those numbers climbing.
"I do believe a whole lot of them have been missed," said Gustafson. "We are going to see an increase in the number of these visual impairment cases."
Staying in Boston on the medical research front, there's another story out there about premature aging among our soldiers. I would imagine that war is a traumatic thing, even if you aren't at the tip of the spear. A friend of mine that is a Vietnam Veteran is currently battling two cancers, but then on the other side of the coin, we buried my great-uncle earlier this summer at the age of 92, and he fought in the Pacific during WWII. Nevertheless...researchers are somewhat alarmed that war might be making young bodies old.
BOSTON — A litany of physical or emotional problems spill out as Iraq and Afghanistan veterans make their way, one by one, to the 11th floor of a VA hospital in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood.
The tragic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder or battlefield concussion are all too evident. Even more alarming for researchers is emerging evidence that these newest American combat veterans — former GIs and Marines in their 20s and 30s — appear to be growing old before their time. Scientists see early signs of heart disease and diabetes, slowed metabolisms and obesity — maladies more common to middle age or later.
“They should have been in the best shape of their lives,” says William Milberg, a Harvard Medical School professor of psychology and project co-director. “The big worry, of course, is we’re going to be taking care of them until they’re in their 70s. What’s going to happen to them in the long run?”
The research is in its early stages, and scientists with the Department of Veterans Affairs are rushing to understand it. If what they’re seeing is a form of early aging, it seems most common to those with both blast-related concussion and PTSD — about 30 percent of the veterans being studied in a long-term research effort. There is even imaging evidence of diminished gray matter in high-functioning areas of the brain, changes that shouldn’t happen for decades, if at all.
Scientists say their theory may not be proved until they can study these veterans over the next few years, and it remains unclear how these findings might impact policies on the length and number of combat deployments.
However, the Army, mindful of the strain, is allowing troops more time between combat deployments — something possible as the war in Afghanistan winds down — and have shortened deployments from a year to nine months. The numbers suffering brain injury and PTSD continue to grow. The Pentagon says that since 2000, 244,000 servicemembers have suffered traumatic brain injuries ranging from mild to severe, both in and out of combat. Since the 9/11 attacks, the VA has treated about the same number of war-era veterans for PTSD.
“We’re looking at people who are going to be having cognitive problems much earlier than they should be having them,” says Regina McGlinchey, a neuropsychologist and project co-director.
Finally this morning, we'll go across the pond and visit briefly with the Royal Family. Much was made last month about young Prince Harry's escapades not quite staying in Vegas. As it turns out, he was likely acting like a young soldier headed off to war and blowing off steam
. Which does make me pause and wonder for a minute. Love or hate the Royals, nearly all of the males in line for the throne have done their bit in the service. Most of them haven't chosen easy jobs, both of Prince Charles' children fly helicopters, and he himself was also a pilot and commanded a Destroyer. (Hell, even the queen learned how to fix trucks during WWII.)
President Obama's children are too young to serve, but I wouldn't be surprised if one of them chose a service academy when the time came. Beau Biden might be a lawyer, but he went to Afganistan. Where are Mitt Romney's five sons? (I would assume Paul Ryan's children are also too young; he gets the same pass as the President.)
CAMP BASTION , Afghanistan — Prince Harry, third in line to the British throne, flew into southern Afghanistan on Friday to begin a four-month combat tour as a gunner for an attack helicopter.
The 27-year-old who has made headlines around the world for his partying is returning to Afghanistan for a second tour. He will start work as an Apache co-pilot and gunner within 10 days in the country’s restive Helmand province, the British military said.
It is a definite shift from last month, when embarrassing naked photos emerged of Harry in a Las Vegas hotel room playing strip billiards.
Looked relaxed if slightly tired, Harry gave a thumbs-up Friday after a long journey on a troop carrier flight from England to Britain’s Camp Bastion, a sprawling desert base close to the town of Lashkar Gah.
Capt. Harry Wales, as he is known in the military, wore his combat uniform and joined his 100-strong unit — the 662 Squadron, 3 Regiment Army Air Corps.
Britain has around 9,500 troops in Afghanistan, mainly based in Helmand province, and has suffered 425 deaths since the start of operations against the Taliban in 2001.
“Prince Harry, like any soldier, considers it a great honor to represent his country in her majesty’s armed forces wherever it chooses to deploy him,” St James’ Palace said in a statement. Harry did not speak as he arrived in Helmand.
The prince’s previous posting as a battlefield air traffic controller in Afghanistan in late 2007 and early 2008 lasted only 10 weeks. It was cut short after his secret deployment was made public.
With that, he became the first member of the British royal family to serve in a war zone since his uncle, Prince Andrew, flew as a helicopter pilot in the Falklands conflict with Argentina in 1982.
And I know what today is. The only commemoration planned is simply flying my flag, although today is the only day of the year I pray for low clouds and drizzle; nor do I look up when I hear a plane.