Since the war began on Oct. 7, 2001, less than a month after the Sept. 11th attacks, at least 2,000 U.S. soldiers have died. Some 2.4 million U.S. soldiers have served in Afghanistan and Iraq, and the psychological toll of the wars is mounting. Last year, the Veterans Administration treated almost 100,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and soldier suicides reached an all-time high this year. In Colorado Springs, the commanders at Fort Carson have come under scrutiny for its handling of mental health concerns, with a 2010 joint NPR-ProPublica investigation finding that as many as 40 percent of Fort Carson soldiers had mild brain injuries missed by Army health screenings. Meanwhile, in 2009 the Colorado Springs Gazette published a startling series called "Casualties of War," written by our guest, investigative reporter Dave Philipps. His book, "Lethal Warriors: When the New Band of Brothers Came Home," shows how a wave of violence swept across Colorado Springs when the 506th Infantry Regiment, known as "the Band of Brothers," returned home from their first tour in Iraq. We are also joined by Georg-Andreas Pogany, a retired Army sergeant who is now an independent veterans’ advocate and investigator, and Graham Clumpner, an Afghanistan War veteran and Colorado regional organizer for Iraq Veterans Against the War. Democracy Now! is on the road, broadcasting from Colorado Springs, the home of five major military installations: Fort Carson, Peterson Air Force Base, the U.S. Air Force Academy, Schriever Air Force Base and the Cheyenne Mountain Air Station....
Today we’ll take a look at the invisible wounds of war here at home. Some 2.4 million soldiers have been through Iraq and Afghanistan, and the psychological toll of the wars is mounting. Last year, the Veterans Administration, or VA, treated almost 100,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for PTSD.
But many agree the numbers could be much higher, because not everyone who suffers seeks treatment. Here in Colorado Springs, the commanders at Fort Carson have come under scrutiny for its handling of mental health concerns, with a 2010 joint NPR-ProPublica investigation finding as many as 40 percent of Fort Carson soldiers had mild brain injuries missed by Army health screenings.
Meanwhile, in 2009, the Colorado Springs Gazette published a startling series called "Casualties of War." It examined a part of war seldom discussed by the media or government officials: the difficulty of returning to civilian life after being trained to be a killer. The story focused on a single battalion based at Fort Carson here in Colorado Springs, the 2nd Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment. The battalion’s nickname is the "Lethal Warriors." In Iraq, the unit fought in some of the war’s bloodiest battles.
For some of the unit’s soldiers, the killing did not end when they returned home. The Gazette reported, since 2006, 10 infantry soldiers have been arrested and accused of murder, attempted murder or manslaughter; others have committed other violent crimes. Some of the veterans have committed suicide. In a one-year period, from the fall of 2007 to the fall of 2008, the murder rate for members of the Army unit was 114 times the rate for Colorado Springs.....
In 2004, Iraq Veterans Against the War was founded by the first returning soldiers from the Iraq War. And since then, we have expanded to include any soldier or veteran who has served post-9/11 in the global war on terror. Our organization has been prioritizing Afghanistan veterans recently, not only because we have the most problems coming out of Afghanistan, out of the six countries that we’re currently bombing, but also because Afghanistan veterans can speak to a larger concern, which is, it’s very easy for the American people—and, in fact, some cases, the world—to lose sight of and stop paying attention to these conflicts. And as we sit here today, there are soldiers, and there are civilians sitting in firefights and sitting in situations where their lives are at risk, and we don’t take a lot of time to look at that, other than looking at the numbers on the front page of the newspaper that say four dead or seven dead. And it doesn’t mean anything to us....
DAVID PHILIPPS: It started with us just seeing a lot of soldiers getting arrested for murder. And we didn’t know, until we really started digging, that it wasn’t the entire 30,000 soldiers at Fort Carson that were really responsible; it was just one group of 500 guys. At that point, we said, "My god, how can you have so much violence coming out of one small group? It must have to do with their collective story of their experience." And so, we started tracing that story by going to the prison, talking to the guys who were in there, finding their friends, talking to them.
And what we found out, essentially, is that these guys had been in the very worst places in Iraq, had been through things that most people, even people who are familiar with the war, would find unspeakable. When they came back, they came back to a system that had been prepared for an Iraq war that the administration thought would last six months and was not prepared to really deal with any psychological casualties. And so, the Army that they had served, when they started showing these psychological wounds from war, a lot of times, instead of helping them, it punished them. It kicked them out. When that happens and these guys no longer have any help, a lot of times they just spiraled into a very dark place, and it ended in violence.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, here at Fort Carson, the murder rate, 114 times the murder rate in Colorado Springs, in civilian Colorado Springs?
DAVID PHILIPPS: Well, for that battalion that we looked at, which is amazing. Now, you have to remember that a combat battalion is almost all young men. But even when we correct for demographics, it’s something like 20 times as high. Twice as high would have been amazingly significant. This was off the charts.
The funny thing is, when we called Fort Carson to ask about this, a lot of times the official response was, "We don’t know what the problem is that you’re talking about. You know, it’s unfair for you to try and paint our brave war fighters as criminals." There was a reluctancy to pick apart the problem and try and solve it.
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