Through the lens of his own personal recovery from a traumatic brain injury suffered in Iraq, ABC’s Bob Woodruff last night examined the plight of military families dealing with injuries to their loved ones.
While the Department of Defense reports that there have been about 23,000 nonfatal battlefield casualties in Iraq, Woodruff reported — through an internal VA document — that more than 200,000 veterans have sought medical care for various ailments.
When Woodruff confronted VA Secretary Jim Nicholson about the disparity in the administration’s figures, Nicholson responded that Americans are probably “surprised to know that 200,000 come to the VA for some kind of medical treatment. That’s probably more than they think.” But Nicholson quickly downplayed the high numbers, claiming a lot of veterans simply “come in for dental problems.” Watch it:
Nicholson’s attempts to diminish the seriousness of the issue are insulting. According to the VA internal report, the injuries afflicting veterans are quite serious in nature:
Mental disorders: 73,000Diseases of nervous system: 61,000Signs of ill-defined conditions: 7,000Diseases of musculoskeletal system: 87,000.
Despite the increasing numbers of wounded and injured veterans seeking care, the Bush administration has laid out plans to cut funding for veterans’ health care two years from now.
WOODRUFF: According to the Department of Defense, there have been about 23,000 nonfatal battlefield casualties, but that doesn’t tell the full story.
PAUL SULLIVAN, VETERANS ADVOCATE: These are the big numbers, Bob. 200,000 have already gone into VA for medical care.
WOODRUFF: The official number is that there are only about 23,000 soldiers and Marines who have been injured in this war.
SULLIVAN: What you have are two sets of books. The Department of Defense saying there are 23,000 wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Department of Veterans Affairs is actually treating 205,000 veterans from these two wars.
WOODRUFF: According to this internal VA report, Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are being diagnosed with a wide variety of ailments; many for multiple problems. The report does not have a category for traumatic brain injury, but it does include post-traumatic stress disorder, mental disorders, infectious and parasitic diseases, and ill-defined conditions.
WOODRUFF: You think americans fully understand how many injured there are in this war?
NICHOLSON: I think it — i think it cuts both ways. I think Americans are always very surprised to know the number of amputations, for example, which is fewer than 600 in total. They’re probably also surprised to know that 200,000 come to the VA for some kind of medical treatment. That’s probably more than they think.
WOODRUFF: You have mental disorders — 73,000; diseases of nervous system — 61,000; symtpoms, signs of ill-defined conditions — 7,000; diseases of musculoskeletal system — 87,000. These are numbers beyond the 23,000.
NICHOLSON: A lot of them come in for dental problems, others come in for a lot of the normal things that people have. We’re providing their healthcare. Some I suppose are because of their service over there. But they weren’t evacuated for that.
WOODRUFF: But they got some kind of injury, some kind of problem because of the war.
NICHOLSON: That’s possible, yes.