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Medical evacuations from Iraq near 11,000

By MARK BENJAMIN, United Press International   |   Dec. 19, 2003 at 3:29 PM   |   Comments

WASHINGTON, Dec. 18 (UPI) -- The total number of wounded soldiers and medical evacuations from the war in Iraq is nearing 11,000, according to new Pentagon data provided in response to a request from United Press International.

The military has made 8,581 medical evacuations from Operation Iraqi Freedom for non-hostile causes in addition to the 2,273 wounded -- a total of 10,854, according to the new data. The Pentagon says that 457 troops have died.

The Pentagon's casualty update for Operation Iraqi Freedom listed on its Web site, however, does not reflect thousands of the evacuations.

It is a toll the country has not seen since Vietnam, said Aseneth Blackwell, former national president of Gold Star Wives of America, Inc., a support group for people who lose a spouse from war.

"It is staggering," said Blackwell.

Blackwell, who lost her husband in 1969 in Vietnam, sometimes visits Walter Reed Army Medical Center where some Iraq veterans get medical care. "To see these guys walking around up there with an arm missing, a leg missing, that is when it hits you in the face," said Blackwell.

According to data released to UPI from the Army Medical Command, the military as of Nov. 30 made 8,581 medical evacuations for bone injuries, surgeries, brain problems, heart illness, mental problems and other non-hostile causes.

But the Pentagon's casualty update as of Dec. 17 on its Web site reported only 364 soldiers as "non-hostile wounded" in addition to reporting that 457 troops have died and 2,273 soldiers have been wounded in action.

Pentagon spokesman Jim Turner said the Pentagon casualty update reports battle deaths and injuries. "What you are seeing on the (casualty update) are the types of injuries you would see in battle."

The Pentagon's definition for casualty, released by Turner, is "any person who is lost to the organization by having been declared dead, duty status whereabouts unknown, missing, ill, or injured."

Turner did not return a phone call or e-mail asking for a clarification of the Pentagon's casualty update.

A veterans' advocate said the Pentagon should report non-hostile incidents as casualties. "They are considered casualties," said Bill Smith, a spokesman at Veterans of Foreign Wars.

In response to a request from UPI about non-hostile incidents, the Army Medical Command this week released data that show 3,843 medical evacuations for "non-battle injuries" and 4,738 for "disease" between March 19 and Nov. 30. Examples of non-battle evacuations were for bone injuries and surgery, the Army said. Examples of disease evacuations include brain, heart, stomach, or mental problems. The evacuations include causes as diverse as dental problems and gynecological issues.

The data from the Army on medical evacuations for non-combat problems only includes evacuations to Army medical facilities and not facilities run by other services, according to Army Surgeon General spokeswoman Virginia Stephanakis. Stephanakis said she does not know how many troops were sent to other facilities, but said that number is small.

It also excludes an unknown number of troops treated in Iraq who did not require a medical evacuation, and soldiers whose illnesses do not show up until later, like post-traumatic stress disorder.

In an e-mail, Army Medical Command spokesman Jaime Cavazos said it was important to remember that evacuations were for "both serious and not-so-serious" problems, but provided no detail. He also said that one individual might represent multiple evacuations, if a soldier were evacuated "back and forth between Iraq and (medical facilities in) Germany several times," but provided no data. He did not return a call seeking further explanation.

© 2003 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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