Congressman Phil Hare reports from Iraq
by Karen S. Lynch
21 Aug 08
Congressman Phil Hare (D-17) said he had a new found appreciation for what our troops are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan. When Hare arrived in Kuwait with six bi-partisan members of the House Veterans’ Affairs Health Subcommittee, the temperature was 119 degrees. It was 128 when they returned home. “Not one person I spoke to complained about the mission or why they were there. They didn’t complain about the heat. The largest complaint I got from the enlisted personnel is the concern about the Iraqis standing up and when they were going to do that.”
“Marines imbedded with the Iraqis have been training Iraqi troops but are frustrated with guards who leave their post about a day after our troops leave the area. They had a system with young kids when they hear our trucks coming back they would alert the Iraqis and then they would resume their posts.” Hare said it is frustrating for our troops — who trained the Iraqi guards and expected them to be able to do what U.S. troops trained them to do.
While admitting he voted against the surge, he acknowledges that “part of it — militarily — did work. We won the war over there but the Iraqis have to win the peace. This is not something we can add more troops to and force them to hold conventional elections.” The cost of the war is also a concern. Hare said the government of Iraq has a $59 billion surplus while we are running piling up huge deficits because of the war spending, borrowing money to try to secure the peace. He thinks the Iraqi government can and should be doing a lot more to secure their own country.
Hare spoke with a single mother who is on her second deployment. Some soldiers are on their third and fourth deployments for as long as 30 months without seeing their kids. “The troops are anxious to come home to their families and home, to use the new GI Bill we just passed and be part of the community again. But none said they should not be there and are doing everything they are being asked to do.”
The focus of the trip was on medical care for troops. Hare said they toured several military facilities, both in Iraq and in Germany. “They are getting world-class treatment. Within 30 minutes, they can literally have a wounded soldier in a level three facility. If they can get a service person there with a pulse, they have a 95 to 98 percent chance of saving that person’s life.”
The subcommittee members saw the new MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected) heavily armored ground ambulances. While similar to other military ambulances, the new vehicle better protects against explosive devices to help get a patient to treatment safely. The armored ambulances cost $1.7 million apiece. “You can’t put a price on saving people’s lives.” There are eight such ambulances there now. Hare was told they need 30 more. “The equipment they need medically they have or will have.”
Medical care personnel in Iraq also treat coalition forces, civilian and independent contractors, Iraqi citizens and even detainees. Hare met Iraqi children treated for wounds and other medical problems, including a five-year-old girl with a bowel obstruction. American surgeons saved her life.
Hare met a young man from Uganda, working as an independent contractor for just $1.10 an hour. An IED explosion to his unarmored supply truck left him severely injured. He lost both legs and his right arm. The Ugandan worker told Hare he wished they had just let him go because he could not provide for his family. The American government fitted him with prosthetics and gave the injured contractor hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical care that saved his life. It is common to see many of these low pay (non-Halliburton) workers in Iraq, according to Hare. He thinks the Iraqi government should pay severely injured civilians helping in Iraq $300 a month to help support their families when they go home.
Hare met with General David Petraeus during his visit. “I admire General Petraeus for the job that he has done militarily bringing security to the region, but he can’t broker the peace. The General told Hare two-thirds of U.S. equipment will have to stay behind when troops are eventually withdrawn. Petraeus said logistically it is not possible to move all the equipment back in a timely or cost-effective fashion. It concerns Hare that not only billions of dollars in equipment will remain behind in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also what will happen to that equipment if it falls into the wrong hands. Predictions are it will take 18 to 24 months to remove our troops safely. Hare believes we need to get moving now to achieve that goal.
While voting for a funding bill to aid both Iraq and Afghanistan to build schools, Hare said he wants to see schools built in the Midwest. “We are entering our sixth year — the longest war we have ever had. I want to see people come home and be with their families.”
Hare is just as concerned what happens to military personal once they return home. Many returning military are not aware of what services or benefits are available to them. They only receive fifteen minutes of orientation on military veteran benefits. “They don’t know what is available or where to go in their state to see what assistance they are entitled to receive. We need to fix that.”
Congressman Hare has co-sponsored and helped pass numerous veteran bills that add benefits and increase screening for PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) and traumatic brain injury identification and treatments. A recently passed bill increased funding for prosthetics. He is currently working on a bill to fast track disability claims, which can take as long as six or seven years.
While commending the level of our current military medical treatment, Hare believes more needs done to improve the process, especially in watching for PTSD and the increase in suicides among returning service men and women.
Hare said we have lost more Vietnam veterans to suicide than we did in combat, an estimated 58,000. He attributes that to a failure of early identification of PTSD symptoms. Hare would like to see one person watching patients for signs of PTSD in sleeping disorders, nightmares and “wounds not visible.”
He acknowledged the military medical personal are under a great deal of pressure and are as battle weary as our troops. “We can’t just keep sending them back into combat over and over without time to rest and recover.” Hare would like to see a veteran working with returning veterans because they have a better understanding what the troops have experienced and would be easier to talk to when they are having problems.
There has been a request to add one or two more troop brigades in Afghanistan. Aside from concerns of ever-rising war spending, sending already battle-weary troops directly from Iraq into Afghanistan would be a mistake, according to Hare. “That is a very different battlefield with the mountainous terrain, where Iraq is relatively flat. Trying to airlift injured soldiers out of that country is much more difficult because there are few places to land. With the tribal regions giving safe haven in Pakistan, terrorist can come into Afghanistan, attack coalition troops, and return across an unprotected boarder.”
Hare would like to take a trip to Afghanistan to see exactly what is happening there. He is concerned with Pakistan and the border regions that are unsecured and allowing terrorist safe havens. He also believes we need to do more than a military operation there. Bringing in agricultural expertise to give farmers options to grow crops other than poppies that cause more harm. Diplomacy also must be part of the plan in Afghanistan to get a secure government that can protect itself. Hare said there is not a military solution without diplomacy and giving this country what it needs to be self-sufficient and secure.