The fearful casualties of Iraq

Beyond all others, those who survived deserve the best care our country can give

McCloskey is a veteran of the Korean War, where he earned two Purple Hearts, the Navy Cross and the Silver Star for heroism. A Republican, he served in the U.S. Congress for 15 years. He recently left retirement on his Yolo County olive farm to challenge Richard Pombo in the Republican primary for the 11th Congressional District.

One of the great tragedies of the Iraq War has been the almost-unnoticed impact on some of our finest young people and their families.

These are the Marines and soldiers who have died and, perhaps even more tragically, those who have been fearfully maimed or burned or have lost limbs from the improvised explosive devices (IEDs) that have become the weapons of choice in the urban guerrilla war waged by their adversaries. They are the men, and sometimes women, of our regular and reserve forces who have borne the brunt of the battle.

Beyond all others, they deserve the best a country can give. It was our first Republican president, Abraham Lincoln, who, toward the end of our terrible Civil War, spoke of the duty to care for the wounded and the spouses and orphans of those killed in combat.

On a recent visit to Camp Pendleton, I had the privilege to talk with a group of young Marines just back from their third seven-month tour of duty in Iraq. Prior to their first deployment, these young men were football stars, actors, class presidents and respected scholars in their schools. They had chosen to enlist in the Marines, had received the best training the Marine Corps was capable of providing and were uniformly proud of their service to the country. They had suffered 25-percent casualties, including their company commander. Their wounded had been grievously hurt, primarily by buried explosive devices triggered from an individual safely observing their patrols from several hundred yards away.

I came away in awe of those men.

Consider, as against their service, the following votes of the House of Representatives that sent them to war.

• On March 2, 2005, an amendment to provide job assistance to veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan (four out of 10 face income loss) was defeated 228 to 197.

• On March 26, 2005, an amendment to provide an additional $50 million in job assistance to returning veterans and $100 million in health benefits was defeated 219 to 200.

• On May 25, 2005, a vote to extend the military’s Tricare service to reservists and National Guardsmen and their families was defeated 218 to 211.

• On May 26, 2005, a vote to add $30 million in health care for the wounded veterans, including prosthetic research for amputees, and $23 million for spouses of servicemen killed in combat was defeated 214 to 213.

These votes came even as, in the spring of 2005, the administration revealed that it had underestimated Veterans Affairs health-service requirements for veterans by more than $1 billion. The White House’s continuing efforts to hide the coffins and the wounded from public view should enrage those who have served in prior wars.

American troops have endured seven-month tours of daily and nightly trips into hostile suburbs where at any moment an insurgent safely ensconced on a rooftop 400 yards away can click a cell phone and trigger a mammoth explosive. Pervasive fear is ever present. We owe those who have survived the best care the nation can provide.