A disturbing study released last week by the RAND Corporation says about 300,000 service members and veterans — nearly one in five of the 1.6 million U.S. troops who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan — acknowledge experiencing major depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. The study also says some 320,000 troops have returned with signs of traumatic brain injury, or TBI, which may be hard to recognize or to distinguish from psychological injury.

In a report made public last January, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) put the number of vets returning with combat-related mental illnesses even higher, at around 500,000, while finding a similar number of TBI cases. (See PWW 3/15-21.)

The RAND study also found that only a little over half those reporting depression or PTSD had sought treatment, and of those, about half had received “minimally adequate treatment.” Among those with possible TBI, more than half had not been evaluated for brain injury by a physician.

The head of the Veterans Administration mental health services has acknowledged that an average of 126 veterans from all wars commit suicide each week. Veterans for Common Sense and Veterans United for Truth planned to include that admission as evidence in their lawsuit against the Veterans Administration, being heard this week in a San Francisco federal courtroom.

The veterans’ organizations charge the VA is not prepared to treat the Iraq and Afghanistan vets who are coming home with PTSD. They are urging the judge to issue a preliminary injunction forcing the VA to immediately treat veterans who show symptoms of PTSD and are at risk for suicide.

Taken together with the difficulties many soldiers have faced in getting proper treatment for physical injuries, these findings highlight the Bush administration’s shocking pattern of placing hundreds of thousands of our young people in the path of grievous harm, and turning its back on them when they need help the most. No matter how many flag pins the Bush-Cheney-McCain crowd wears, they can’t cover up their callous hypocrisy.

It’s long past time to bring home the troops who should never have been sent to war. And, to care for them properly when they return.