Friday, March 21, 2008

With 5-year Iraq War anniversary, media turn some attention to disabled vets

Melissa Stockwell, who served in Iraq,
and now plans to compete in the
Paralympics in Beijing.

On March 21, The Washington Post profiled Melissa Stockwell, who lost her leg while serving in the Army in Iraq, She's now in training for the swimming competition in the international Paralympics Games for athletes with disabilities, which will follow the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.

The Post story explains that new disabled veterans are returning the Paralympics to its roots: "Stockwell, 27, is one of more than a dozen disabled veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan -- seven of whom now are living and training full time at USOC training facilities -- hoping to qualify for the U.S. Paralympic squad. Founded after World War II as part of a rehabilitation program for injured veterans, the Paralympics over time came to be populated predominantly by athletes who were born with disabilities or disabled much of their lives. But more than 31,000 service members have been injured in combat in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, invigorating what has proved to be an inextricable relationship."

Bob Woodruff of ABC News reported on why veterans with traumatic brain injuries and permanent impairments are only considered "partially disabled." For example, vet Michael Boothby received only a 70% disability rating, "even though many of his injuries are permanent. He has traumatic brain injury and has lost more than half of his vision in both eyes."

In the report, Woodruff revisits some of the vets he met in his 2007 documentary, "To Iraq and Back," which looked at issues such as about how brain injuries are overlooked at VA hospitals. Woodruff was brain injured himself while reporting in Iraq in 2006. His book with his wife, Lee, In An Instant: A family's journey of love and healing, just came out in paperback.

The Chicago Tribune published an op-ed from Nobel Prize-winning economist J. E. Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes, the co-authors of The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict, that nailed down just how expensive the war has been in monetary and human costs. They also did significant research showing that some "cost-cutting" measures in the Iraq war have caused record number of injuries and disabilities.

"The government kept upfront costs down, not spending money on, for instance, vehicles that would have protected our troops against improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, which have led to so many deaths and disabilities, even after they were urgently requested," Stiglitz and Bilmes write. "This war is distinctive in the huge number of injuries, some 15 times the number of fatalities—a tribute to modern medicine, but an unfunded liability in excess of $600 billion, costs that we will be paying for decades. (The administration has done all it can to hide these numbers; working through veterans groups, we had to use the Freedom of Information Act to get the full scope of the injuries.)" posted reflections from veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Last weekend veterans gathered in Maryland and spoke publicly about their war experiences. Iraq Veterans against the War are posting videos of testimonials from last weekend's meeting.

And in a local story in The Aspen (Colo.) Times, a disabled Iraq veteran is allowed by the Aspen-Pitkin County Housing Authority Board to stay in his apartment, even though he makes a higher salary than the rules allow. The Board voted that Casey Owens, 26, a former Marine and double amputee, deserved the exception because it was the management's company that let Owens have the apartment without checking his income eligibility. Owens, with the help of a veterans group, spent money to make the apartment accessible and a Housing Authority member praised that fact saying, “I love that we are getting an ADA unit because there are so few of them.”