November 16, 2007

Maimed and Murdered by the State

WASHINGTON, Illinois (CNN) -- Ty Ziegel peers from beneath his Marine Corps baseball cap, his once boyish face burned beyond recognition by a suicide bomber's attack in Iraq just three days before Christmas 2004.

He lost part of his skull in the blast and part of his brain was damaged. Half of his left arm was amputated and some of the fingers were blown off his right hand.

Ziegel, a 25-year-old Marine sergeant, knew the dangers of war when he was deployed for his second tour in Iraq.

But he didn't expect a new battle when he returned home as a wounded warrior: a fight with the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"Sometimes, you get lost in the system," he told CNN. "I feel like a Social Security number. I don't feel like Tyler Ziegel."


More than 28,500 troops have been wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom, including about 8,500 that have needed air transport, according to the U.S. military.

A recent Harvard study found that the cost of caring for those wounded over the course of their lifetime could ultimately cost more than $660 billion.

In Ziegel's case, he spent nearly two years recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in Texas. Once he got out of the hospital, he was unable to hold a job. He anticipated receiving a monthly VA disability check sufficient to cover his small-town lifestyle in Washington, Illinois.

Instead, he got a check for far less than expected. After pressing for answers, Ziegel finally received a letter from the VA that rated his injuries: 80 percent for facial disfigurement, 60 percent for left arm amputation, a mere 10 percent for head trauma and nothing for his left lobe brain injury, right eye blindness and jaw fracture.

"I don't get too mad about too many things," he said. "But once we've been getting into this, I'm ready to beat down the White House door if I need to."

"I'm not expecting to live in the lap of luxury," he added. "But I am asking them to make it comfortable to raise a family and not have to struggle."

Within 48 hours of telling his story to CNN this summer, the Office of then-VA Secretary Jim Nicholson acted on Ziegel's case. The VA changed his head trauma injury, once rated at 10 percent, to traumatic brain injury rated at 100 percent, substantially increasing his monthly disability check.


Garrett Anderson with the Illinois National Guard, for example, has been fighting the VA since October 15, 2005. Shrapnel tore through his head and body after a roadside bomb blew up the truck he was driving. He lost his right arm.

The VA initially rejected his claim, saying his severe shrapnel wounds were "not service connected."

"Who would want to tell an Iraqi or Afghanistan soldier who was blown up by an IED that his wounds were not caused by his service over there?" said Anderson's wife, Sam.

After pressure from Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, the VA acted on Anderson's case. He has since been awarded compensation for a traumatic brain injury.

"It upsets me that the VA system operates in a way that it takes people of power -- and who you know and what you know -- to get what you want," said Anderson, who is now retired.
Read the entire story -- and look at the photographs of Tyler Ziegel, then and now.

These are only two examples out of many thousands -- to say nothing of the more than one million Iraqis who have been slaughtered, the many tens of thousands of Iraqis who have been grievously wounded, and the several millions who now live as desperate refugees.

And all of this in a damnable "war of choice" -- a war that was entirely unnecessary, a criminal war of aggression identical in principle to similar crimes committed by Nazi Germany -- a pattern that our ruling class now prepares to repeat in a virtually identical manner with Iran, a war fueled by lies.

The Democrats' latest Iraq funding bill, which the Democrats and their willing liars insist will help "end" this monstrous occupation when it will do nothing of the kind, is temporarily derailed, after failing in the Senate. But as this NYT story notes, the Democratic Congress passed a defense spending bill in the hundreds of billions of dollars, one signed by Bush earlier this week. The amount of that bill is: $471 billion. Contemplate the bloody glory of it. When you are determined to maintain American global hegemony and a worldwide empire of military bases, no price is too high. With billions of dollars available from other sources to pay for the continuing slaughter, the latest bill is hardly a matter of great moment. In the New Year, the deadly, meaningless Washington charade will resume. As the 2008 election comes closer, there is no doubt the Democrats will continue to fund the continuing criminal, wide-scale murder. To do otherwise would open them up to charges of "not supporting the troops" and of "being soft on terror." Because the Democrats are unable and unwilling to make a principled argument on a single issue that matters, that is a battle they will avoid at all costs.

Besides, the ruling class is committed to a decades-long, fully bipartisan set of goals: a determination to make as much of the rest of the world as possible do exactly what we tell it to do, and an increasingly authoritarian-corporatist state at home. Except for periodic nods to the "will of the people" during election seasons, our rulers don't give a damn what "the people" think. And most Americans are more than willing to accede to the endless lies, so elections are only another mind-numbingly dreary element in the deadly deception. With the unrelenting, ever more steel-fisted guidance of the ruling elites, Americans have willed themselves into a vacant trance of endless slaughter, blood, death and destruction.

The future holds many, many more Tyler Ziegels, and a ghastly number of murdered, maimed and displaced Iraqis. God only knows what our ruling class will do to millions of Iranians. And about all this, almost no one has any sense of urgency about trying to stop it.

Go watch teevee. Get drunk. Screw a lot. What the hell difference does it make? Oh, yes, I'll keep writing, not that I think these scribblings matter a damn. It's what I do now, as idiotic as it is.

I don't have mind-obliterating teevee. But drink and sex are fully worthwhile distractions, along with good music and books. And the cats, always the cats. Infrequent minor tussles aside, they are wonderfully peaceful, and they seem to be blissfully content. I suggest we make them our models. The world would be vastly improved.