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13 Nov, 2011

Pew Research: Injured Iraq war veterans say it’s not been worth it

Originally Published: 13 November 2011

More than six-in-ten injured post-9/11 U.S. military veterans (62%) are critical of the war in Iraq, compared with 48% of recent veterans who were not injured, according to according to a Pew Research Center survey released last week.

“In their judgment of the Iraq War, these injured veterans appear to be more like veterans from earlier eras: 57% of injured and 58% of uninjured pre-9/11 veterans say Iraq has not been worth it,” the survey says.

“Attitudes toward the war in Afghanistan reflect a similar pattern. Among all recent veterans, those who were seriously injured are more likely than other veterans to say this war was not worth the cost (52% vs. 40%).” However, the research analysis adds a curious comment. It says this “finding falls just short of being statistically significant because of the relatively small size of the samples.”

The survey of what was referred to as a nationally representative sample of 1,853 veterans was conducted from July 18 to Sept. 4, 2011. Altogether, there are about 2.2 million surviving veterans, about a third (33%) of whom served during the Vietnam era (1964-73). In comparison, 18% have served in the post-9/11 era, about the same as the share of surviving veterans of World War II and Korean War. About a quarter (26%) served between 1974 and Sept. 11, 2001, a period that includes the 1990-91 Gulf War, the survey said.

It notes that war in the post-9/11 period has changed. “Combat has become less lethal than in the earlier wars. Proportionately more soldiers now survive shattering injuries that would have killed their predecessors.”

According to Department of Defense casualty data compiled for each major U.S. war, troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan survive 88% of all combat injuries, compared with 72% in Vietnam, 63% in World War II and 44% in the Civil War, it says.

“Today, about three-in-ten post-9/11 veterans have been determined by the Department of Defense or the Department of Veterans Affairs to have some level of disability from service-related injuries, illnesses or psychological conditions such as PTS. Among these disabled veterans, nearly six-in-ten are at least 30% disabled and four- in-ten have lost at least half of their normal ability to function.”

These surviving injured veterans “are often left to deal with the emotional and physical consequences of their injuries for the rest of their lives—and these experiences can color their attitudes toward the military,” the survey says.

“Veterans who suffered major service-related injuries are more than twice as likely as their more fortunate comrades to say they had difficulties readjusting to civilian life. They are almost three times as likely as other veterans to report they have suffered from post-traumatic stress (PTS). And they are less likely in later life to be in overall good health or to hold full-time jobs.”

The survey also finds that injured veterans are the most likely to say that they are not getting enough assistance from the government.

Fully half (52%) of all veterans badly injured while serving say the government has not given them, as a veteran, “all the help you think it should.” In contrast, of other veterans, only 32% are as critical of the government, while 63% say it has done enough to assist them.

The survey found that about half of all veterans who suffered a serious service-related injury said their health status is “only fair” or “poor”—nearly double the proportion of non-injured veterans who offer a similarly downbeat assessment of their physical well-being (49% vs. 28%).

It added, “The relationship between a service-related injury and current health status remains strong even when the age of a veteran is taken into account. Among veterans ages 60 or older, nearly half (45%) of those who were seriously injured while serving say their current health is fair or poor, compared with 27% of other veterans of a comparable age.

“Not all of the wounds suffered by members of the armed forces are physical. Seriously wounded veterans are about three times as likely as others who served to say they suffered from post-traumatic stress (47% vs. 16%). Similarly, four-in-ten injured veterans (40%) say they have had flashbacks, distressing memories or recurring nightmares about an emotionally traumatic experience they had in the military. In comparison, only 15% of those who were not injured while serving are similarly troubled.”

The survey also found that among all veterans, those who were seriously injured while serving are less likely than other veterans to be employed full time and more likely not to have a job.

It said, “Overall, less than three-in-ten veterans (28%) who had been seriously injured are currently employed full time, compared with 40% of those who were not badly hurt while serving.

“About half (49%) of seriously injured veterans are not employed, a group that includes veterans who are disabled and out of the workforce. In contrast, a third of veterans who were not seriously injured while serving are not working. An equal proportion of both groups are employed part time (6%), while 17% of injured veterans and 21% of non-injured veterans are retired.

“Among those injured veterans who are working, nearly two-thirds are employed by a private company or business, compared with 55% of other veterans. At the same time, only 6% of injured veterans are self-employed, compared with 12% of other former service members.”

On issues of public policy, the survey said, veterans who were badly hurt while serving are more likely than uninjured veterans (42% vs. 29%) to support a return to conscription, which ended in 1973 when the military went to an all-volunteer force.

“But on other issues, the differences between injured and uninjured veterans are small or nonexistent. Nearly half of both groups say using overwhelming military force is the best way to defeat terrorism (48% for injured veterans and 46% of other veterans). And the same proportion believes that the United States should pay less attention to problems overseas (61%).

“Their views of President Obama are likewise similar: 41% of injured veterans and 40% of other service members say they approve of the way Obama is handling his duties as commander in chief,” the survey found.

The full survey can be downloaded at the Pew Research Center website here: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/