Saturday, November 15, 2003

The number of American casualties from Operation Iraqi Freedom — which includes those evacuated due to injury or illness as well as those wounded and those killed — has passed 9,000, according to new Pentagon data.

In addition to the 397 service members who have died and the 1,967 wounded, 6,861 troops were medically evacuated for noncombat conditions between March 19 and Oct. 30, the Army Surgeon General’s office said.

That brings total casualties among all services to more than 9,200 and represents an increase of nearly 3,000 noncombat medical evacuations reported since the first week of October. The Army offered no immediate explanation for the increase.

A leading veterans’ advocate expressed concern.

“We are shocked at the dramatic increase in casualties,” said Steve Robinson, executive director of the National Gulf War Resource Center.

Of the noncombat medical evacuations:

• 2,464 were for injuries such as those suffered in vehicle accidents.

• 4,397 were due to illness; 504 of those were classified as psychiatric, 378 as neurological, and another 150 as neurosurgery.

“We are especially concerned about the psychological and neurological evacuations from this war,” Mr. Robinson said. “We request a clarification of the types of illnesses people are suffering from so we do not have a repeat of the first Gulf war. We need to understand the nature and types of illnesses so scientists can determine if significant trends are occurring.”

Army Surgeon General’s Office spokeswoman Virginia Stephanakis told UPI Thursday that it is misleading to combine psychiatric and neurological problems. Some of the neurosurgery might be operations on the spinal cord, for example.

“Those are apples and oranges,” she said.

She also pointed out that some troops evacuated for psychiatric reasons later returned after getting a rest.

In early October, the Army Surgeon General’s Office said 3,915 soldiers had been evacuated from Operation Iraqi Freedom for noncombat injuries and illnesses, including 478 with psychological problems and 387 for neurological reasons.

The new total of 6,861 reported noncombat evacuations is a rise of 57 percent since then.

The latest data on noncombat evacuations includes 1,628 orthopedic (bone) injuries. Other leading causes for evacuations include:

• 831 surgeries for injuries

• 289 cardiology cases

• 249 gastrointestinal

• 242 pulmonary (lung)

• 634 general surgery

• 319 gynecological

• 290 urological

• 37 dental

Miss Stephanakis said the pulmonary problems included soldiers with pneumonia as part of a cluster investigated by the Army in August.

The numbers don’t include service members treated in theater or those whose illnesses — such as post-traumatic stress disorder — were not apparent until after they returned to the United States.

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