CBS News investigative producer Pia Malbran wrote this story for CBSNews.com.
The Department of Defense has released its latest American military casualty numbers for those who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the figures reveal non-fatal casualties that go well beyond the more than 4,000 U.S. troops who have died so far.
As of April 5, a total of 36,082 members of the U.S. military have been wounded in action and killed in Iraq, since the beginning of the war in March 2003, and in Afghanistan, where the war there began in October 2001. The 36,082 number breaks down to 4,492 deaths and 31,590 wounded. According to the same DoD "casualty" counts, an additional 38,631 U.S. military personnel have also been removed from the battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan for "non-hostile-related medical air transports."
"That's a tremendous number," said Paul Sullivan, the executive director of the advocate group Veterans for Common Sense, who believes these latest figures paint a more realistic picture of the true cost of the Iraq and Afghan wars. He is concerned troop casualties, including those who have been wounded, killed and medically transported, is now nearing 75,000.
Defense Department spokesperson Cynthia Smith, however, told CBS News the numbers must be carefully interpreted. Smith said the 38,631 "non-hostile-related medical air transports" are not casualties of war even though they are listed in the DoD's "casualty" documents because, she says, they were for "injuries not related to service, they were unrelated to combat."
Smith described the "non-hostile-related" injuries as the types that "could happen to any civilian on the street."
"Our main focus is severe trauma care in the theater," she said. For example, "if a woman needs her annual check up, we don't have the capability of doing that [on the ground in Iraq] so we would air transport her out." According to Smith, the 36,082 tally is a more "accurate" reflection how many military service men and women have been fatal and non-fatal casualties in connection to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, as of April 5.
Sullivan points out that the military's casualty reports also exclude the "enormous number [of new veterans] flooding the VA," often with medical problems developed due to the war. A January report by the Department of Veterans Affairs showed 299,585 veterans who recently served in the Middle East had been treated by the VA since 2002. Forty percent (120,049) of the Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who sought care from the VA did so for mental health disorders.