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A Tough Homecoming for War Veterans

Every so often, we'll reprint something from our sister publication, The Week. This is one of those times.

© Zhang Jun/Xinhua Press/Corbis

Veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are returning home with unprecedented physical and mental wounds. Here, a Q&A guide.

What challenges do new veterans face?

More than 2.3 million soldiers have served in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past decade, and official fatality and casualty numbers — 6,179 dead, 47,000 wounded — fail to capture the extensive physical and psychological injuries many of them have suffered.

The Veterans Administration has treated more than 210,000 veterans of those wars for post-traumatic stress disorder, but acknowledges a much larger epidemic, since the stigma of mental-health problems prevents many of them from seeking help. Vets are also returning to marriages and families strained or broken by multiple deployments, few employment opportunities, and a country largely oblivious to the wars in which they served, heightening their feelings of loneliness and alienation. "It's harder coming home than leaving — anyone will tell you that," says Col. Michael Gaal, who served in Iraq.

What kinds of wounds have they suffered?

Wounded soldiers are far more likely to come home alive today than in past wars, thanks to advances in combat medicine, faster evacuations, and better body armor. In Vietnam, 2.6 soldiers survived their wounds for every battlefield death; in Iraq and Afghanistan, the ratio is 16 to 1. But that means thousands are returning with catastrophic injuries, such as double and triple amputations and debilitating spinal cord damage, and they need special, long-term care. The use of improvised explosive devices by insurgents has caused a huge increase in traumatic brain injuries, widely considered the "signature injury" of these wars, with at least 218,000 cases diagnosed over the past decade.

What are traumatic brain injuries?

They range from penetrating head wounds to concussions sustained through exposure to massive bomb blasts. Diagnosis can be difficult; blast waves can cause micro-concussions that damage brain cells even of soldiers who are not counted among the wounded. "There are combat wounds you can see, and others that are invisible until symptoms develop," says clinical psychologist Barbara Van Dahlen. Even mild brain injuries can lead to a range of cognitive, behavioral, and emotional problems, including difficulty concentrating, memory loss, and depression. Symptoms often overlap with those of PTSD, making it hard to determine whether soldiers are suffering a psychological problem, a brain injury, or both.

Are these problems widespread?

Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America estimates that nearly one in three recent vets — or more than 700,000 of them — suffers from PTSD, depression, or brain injury. Blackouts, flashbacks, night terrors, and sudden rages are common among veterans; suicide, alcoholism, and drug use have surged. PTSD has been cited as a factor in many acts of vets running amok, such as this month's killing of a Mount Rainier National Park ranger by a 24-year-old Iraq returnee. Since PTSD symptoms can emerge long after service ends, fallout from the disorder is likely to increase. "When you look at the epidemic of PTSD, you see the future," says Harvard professor Linda Bilmes.

Are vets getting the help they need?

Many are not. "No one was really prepared for the number of seriously wounded survivors," says Dr. Ronald Glasser, the author of a book on battlefield medicine. Wounded veterans have swamped the VA system, leading to a backlog of almost 900,000 disability claims. Vets complain of a burdensome bureaucracy, lost paperwork, redundant medical exams, and inconsistent diagnoses. "You fight for your country, then come home and have to fight against your own country for the benefits you were promised," said Clay Hunt, a Marine sniper who was shot in the wrist in Iraq, and had to wait 10 months for disability checks. Depressed, divorced, and haunted by the loss of several close friends in battle, Hunt killed himself last March.

What will their long-term care cost?

Hundreds of billions of dollars. Studies show that the cost of health-care and disability payments for veterans of past wars did not peak until decades after the last bullet was fired. The peak year for paying out disability claims to World War I veterans was 1969, and care costs for Vietnam vets have not yet crested. Because of the high survival rates and the many cases of PTSD and brain injuries, it's been estimated that the medical and disability costs for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans over the next 40 years could reach $930 billion.

Are returning vets getting jobs?

Many find that their old jobs have disappeared, or that potential employers are skeptical about the value of their military service. Unemployment among recent vets is 13.1 percent, compared with the national level of 8.5 percent. One in three vets between the ages of 18 and 24 — many of whom had scant education or work experience when they deployed — is now jobless, twice the rate for non-vets of the same age range. "The spike in new veteran unemployment should be a serious wake-up call for the country," says Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. "The tide of war might be receding, but the surge home is just really beginning."

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Lavishing your furry friends with adorable attire is a benefit of pet ownership that they don't mention on the adoption forms. Whether you prefer practical clothing like sweaters and jackets or statement pieces like bow ties and tutus, these dapper duds are perfect for a howl-iday or "gotcha day" gift, or simply for saying, "Who's the cutest little pupper in pajamas? You are!"

1. CASHMERE DOG SWEATER; FROM $165

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This classic cable-knit cashmere sweater is a sophisticated look for Fido or Finn. Get it from Canine Styles, a luxury dog emporium in New York City that has plenty of posh and preppy outfits.

Find It: Canine Styles

2. TOGGLE DOG COAT; $85

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This toggle coat (available in orange, navy, and tan) is as fashionable as it is warm. Made of Melton wool, it has Velcro closures to make getting dressed easy. It's great for long walks in the country.

Find It: Canine Styles

3. DOG TUXEDO; FROM $90

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This satin tuxedo is perfect for the canine members of your wedding party, though it will brighten up any other occasion as well. The custom, handmade outfit comes complete with a snappy bow tie.

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4. DOG BELLE DRESS; FROM $45

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The queen of your castle can feel like a Disney princess in her very own version of Belle's iconic yellow dress from Beauty and the Beast. This ball gown is made from yellow crepe satin with chiffon overlay on the bodice and features hand-painted gold detailing on the skirt. Enchanted rose not included.

Find It: Etsy

5. POODLE SKIRT OUTFIT FOR DOGS; $26

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What if you could buy a 1950s poodle skirt for your poodle? This retro dress is comprised of a pink poodle skirt, striped bodice, and sequined belt, and comes with a bow headband.

Find It: Amazon

6. RIBBED CROCHET BUNNY SWEATER; $25

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Your snuggle-bunny will look like a little fancy-pants in this ribbed crochet sweater. Choose from seven colors, including this dashing deep red.

Find It: Etsy

7. BESPOKE MONOGRAM DOG SWEATER; FROM $155

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Bespoke clothing isn't just for humans: British luxury dog clothing brand Ruby Rufus will make your pooch a custom monogram sweater made with 100 percent Italian cashmere. You can even order it in your dog's favorite color.

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8. HOT PINK DOG TUTU; $17

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Tutus look absolutely adorable on tiny humans and animals alike. If your pooch wants to get in touch with its inner ballerina, then grab this hot pink number from Etsy. Rave reviews are a sure thing.

Find It: Etsy

9. PINK DOG POLO SHIRT; $35

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This pink polo shirt is perfect for your preppy fur baby. It features not one but a veritable multitude of crocodiles. They'll be the most dapper dog at the country club.

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10. DOG BARN COAT WITH BROWN CORDUROY COLLAR; $85

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When it's time for a walk, your dog will look effortlessly chic in this fancy barn coat. It comes in navy, cranberry, orange, hot pink, and loden and features convenient pockets for anyone with opposable thumbs.

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11. WHITE PET NECK RUFF; $26

Pet Neck Ruff
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Your canine or kitty will look like their painting belongs in London's National Portrait Gallery with this Elizabethan neck ruff.

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12. CHICKEN SWEATER; $25

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Chickens can get cold when they're strutting around outside. A sweater (well, more like sweater vest) for your bird can also help prevent feather picking during molting season. Or, it can simply keep them warm while they stare pensively across a snowy landscape.

Find It: Etsy

13. PET CIRCLE SCARF; $15

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An infinity scarf is a perfect burst of color on a dreary early morning walk. The proprietor of Mitten Made on Etsy originally designed this wool snood for her miniature Dachshund to help keep her warm during the long, cold winters in Michigan.

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14. FAB DOG TRAVEL RAINCOAT; FROM $18

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This timeless yellow rain slicker will look great on any puppy when it's raining cats and dogs. It's made of 100 percent waterproof nylon shell that keeps fur dry. Bonus: It's perfect for an It Halloween costume.

Find It: Chewy

15. LACE CAT OR DOG COLLAR; FROM $10

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This handmade, white lace collar is a must-have for fancy felines. It's also embellished with a large rhinestone.

Find It: Etsy

16. FITWARM PENGUIN PAJAMAS FOR DOGS; FROM $10

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Keep your pupper warm on cold winter nights with these penguin PJs. They're great for doggie sleepovers or lazy weekends on the couch watching Netflix.

Find It: Amazon

17. PLAID CASHMERE DOG COAT; FROM $225

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Your dog will look like a proper gentleman in this smart plaid peacoat. This fine garment is made of cashmere with a faux fur lining and leather buttons, and is a perfect shield against chill and fog.

Find It: Canine Styles

18. SATIN PET BOW TIE; FROM $8

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This satin doggie bow tie is perfect for any occasion. It comes in several colors and features a Velcro fastener that makes it easy to attach to a collar. Plus, 10 percent of every sale goes to charity: specifically to SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and Feeding Pets of the Homeless.

Find It: Etsy

19. RED DOG DRESS; FROM $34

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Your good boy or girl will look red carpet-ready in this elegant gown. The voluminous tulle skirt is to die for, and each bow is embellished with beads. Custom orders are also available.

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20. DOG TIE; FROM $13

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Your pooch will be ready to stun at any black tie event. This tie is designed like a collar, making it easy to dress your four-legged friend. This Etsy store gives back: 10 perfect of all sales are donated to an animal protection association.

Find It: Etsy

21. NAUTICAL DOG DRESS WITH MATCHING LEASH; $20

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Perfect for a day on the town or setting sail in a schooner, this is the sailor outfit you never knew your best furry friend needed. This vintage throwback also comes with a matching leash.

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22. TARTAN FLANNEL PET BOW TIE; $5.50

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Your dog or cat will turn heads in this flannel tartan bow tie. It has a convenient elastic loop that slides over your pup's collar.

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23. PUCCI DOG SHIRT; $23

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Only the fanciest dogs wear, err, Pucci. Grab this punny "designer" t-shirt for your pup. This high-quality cotton statement piece is perfect for small breeds.

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24. PINK POLKA DOT AND LACE DOG HARNESS DRESS; $20

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This feminine pink polka dot dress is simply adorable. It features a convenient built-in harness and comes with a matching leash.

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25. PET SWEATER VEST; $6

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Your dog or cat will look like an erudite Oxford professor in this sweater vest. Note that the button on the pocket is shaped like a bone.

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