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It's time to rethink the cost of wars

The National Priorities Project estimates that it cost the U.S. taxpayers $1.05 trillion to fund the Iraq and Afghanistan wars through the end of Fiscal Year 2010.

In March, the Obama administration appeared again on Capitol Hill to ask for another $33 billion to support the “surge” in Afghanistan.

Why have we so readily forgotten that Americans were told there were “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq as the reason for our military invasion when this turned out to be false. Like Iraq, there is absolutely no guarantee our troops will be withdrawn by 2012.

From the Russian-Afghanistan experience, we should readily expect it will take much longer than the six years we previously spent in Iraq.

Recently 356 members of Congress - 189 Democrats and 167 Republicans - voted to keep the wars funded without any debate. Why?

The Iraq and Afghanistan “occupations” have caused hundreds of thousands of civilian casualties from insurgents and military engagement, while thousands of women and children have been displaced. Repeated military deployments have also wreaked havoc on our own soldiers and families.

Nearly three-hundred thousand U.S. troops have been deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq for a third or fourth time.

We can no longer afford to blindly accept that these “wars” are “just” or “necessary” when U.S. soldiers and families are suffering the effects of prolonged war.

On Feb. 24, the House Committee on Veteran Affairs convened to explore the increasing number of military related suicides. Unfortunately, the hearing was not well-publicized by the mainstream media.

The nature of roadside bombs creates psychological terror. Our troops who witness violence and destruction of innocent lives are routinely prescribed antidepressants to blunt their emotions.

One-in-six military members is prescribed psychiatric drugs such as Zoloft, Lexapro, Paxil or Prozac even though the FDA warns that antidepressants can increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in some. Time magazine reports that the Pentagon keeps statistics on just about everything but does not maintain a central clearinghouse for antidepressant prescription data, making exact numbers “difficult to track.”

Antidepressants are not the only type of drugs routinely prescribed to our troops.

According to the Pentagon Health Affairs Office, almost 3.8 million pain relief medications were prescribed for servicemembers last year -- four times the amount prescribed in 2001. The military also prescribes “stay awake” amphetamine drugs; the side effect increases paranoia and homicidal behavior in our soldiers and causes a breakdown in morale.

Unfortunately, when our soldiers return home and try to assimilate into civilian life, many remain the casualty of post traumatic stress, drug addiction, physical pain or disability – and they return to the prospect of high unemployment, divorce, homelessness, prison or suicide – the hidden costs of wars.

The costly “wars” have drained our troops and families emotionally and depleted our economy as well as left a destructive toll on the Iraq and Afghanistan people.

Americans should not sit by silently while our nation is led into protracted warfare without debate. We must critically ask whether it is in our nation’s interest to bring our troops home and start the healing process.

Tracy Emblem is an attorney and a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in California's 50th District. The candidate's opinion does not reflect the editorial position of SDGLN.