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Study: Troops from Poorer Parts of U.S. Face 'Unequal Burden' of War

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Monday, September 12, 2016   

BOISE, Idaho – The scars of war might be deeper for soldiers who come from poorer areas of the country, according to a new study.

Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner from the University of Boston looked at more than 500,000 American combat casualties since World War II, and found a growing trend of unequal health services for soldiers after they come home.

Shen says many veterans who return to lower-income communities struggle to find mental health services.

"A good proportion of them don't have the benefit of some of those structures,” he points out. “It makes reintegration more difficult, it makes recovery from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) more difficult, it might lead to an increase in other sorts of challenges such as addiction. And that can be cumulative."

The study, "Invisible Inequality: The Two Americas of Military Sacrifice," found communities with lower incomes have higher casualty rates.

Veterans Affairs has one medical center in Boise and eight community-based outpatient clinics across Idaho.

Shen says more people from low-income communities see the armed forces as a career path because other career and educational paths aren't affordable options.

"Where it's hitting hardest are those, I would say, the lower-middle class or the working class,” he points out. “Individuals who see opportunity – good opportunity – in the military, and we're all for that, but then who might not have some of the service provisions at the end that we think they ought to."

Shen adds politicians from the major parties rarely talk about this reality, even though income inequality and national security are two of the biggest issues of this election.

"Sometimes we get a comment that says, 'Oh we don't talk about it because everybody knows it – it's a rich man's war, poor man's fight, we've known that forever,'” he relates.

“Well, it turns out that about half of Americans think that there is shared sacrifice right now. And they're wrong about that, but that's what they think. And it's probably understandable why they think that, because no one ever mentions it on either side of the aisle."

Shen thinks talking about this trend could give pause to the next president before she or he decides to put boots on the ground.





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