The Iraq War’s True Cost

Have you seen this picture before?

The photo, taken in March 2003, has become one of the most iconic images of the U.S. invasion of Iraq: that of an American soldier carrying a wounded Iraqi child to safety. The photograph of Army Private First Class Joseph Dwyer was used by news outlets around the world. In a tragic twist, PFC Dwyer collapsed and died last month after abusing a computer cleaner aerosol. After returning from Iraq, Dwyer was plagued with sometimes violent delusions that he was being hunted by Iraqi killers, and despite his obvious problems, Dwyer’s issues were never wholly addressed by Veterans Affairs:

After a PTSD program in Durham, N.C., turned Dwyer away because of a lack of space, Maureen Dwyer said her son received inpatient care for six months at the Northport Veterans Affairs Medical Center, beginning last August. After doctors discharged him in March, she said, his anxieties returned with such intensity that Dwyer’s wife, Matina, 30, took their daughter Meagan, 2, and moved out five days later.

After her son was discharged from Northport, Maureen Dwyer said she was especially concerned because there were no VA mental health facilities near his Pinehurst, N.C., home.

There’s no denying Joseph Dwyer did receive treatment for his mental health issues, but where was the aftercare and followup? Where were the doctors and programs to ensure Joseph Dwyer continued to receive the help he needed for his mental health issues? What’s more, why wasn’t more done to properly plan for the return of soldiers like Joseph Dwyer? At the risk of getting up on my soapbox, there’s absolutely no reason why any soldier suffering from PTSD or a related mental health issue should have to wait for appropriate services because of a lack of space.

Here’s what Joseph Dwyer’s mother has to say about the situation:

“Every second that goes by, there is another soldier just like Joseph,” Maureen Dwyer said. “Another family can’t go through this. All the politicians talk so great about the soldiers, about patriotism, but mental illness is something they are not putting enough into.”

And that’s the true cost of the war in Iraq: the tally of lives lost or irreparably altered due to the serious mental health issues faced by soldiers returning home from the field of battle.


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