More American troops are reportedly returning home alive from the Middle East thanks in part to advances in military medicine. Unfortunately, many return home troubled by physical and mental injuries, needing treatment, recovery and retraining that can’t be received in a timely manner or cheaply, quickly becoming economic casualties of the mismanaged war on terror.
Gamal Awad is one of those more than 185,000 soldiers. He was a marine who pulled burned bodies from the ruins of the Pentagon after the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. He survived the horrors he saw in Kuwait and Iraq, but every morning he needs to think of a reason not to kill himself.
Awad is one of a growing number of veterans and their families who no longer trust the government to take care of them the way they should be taken care of. Instead of being treated like a hero, veterans are being caught up in an endless loop of red tape and inefficient funds set aside to treat the wounded.
Awad can’t look at the photograph showing him receiving a Marine heroism medal for his recovery work at the Pentagon. It might bring back memories of a burned woman whose skin peeled off in his hands when he tried to comfort her. He can still hear the rockets shrieking in Iraq, still smell the burning fuel, and still relives the blast that blew him right out of bed.
No matter what he does, the memories keep coming back. “Nothing can turn off those things,” he says, voice choked and eyes glistening.