A Mother's Outrage: U.S. Death #4,001 in Iraq -- But It Doesn't Count

03/24/2008 11:50 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Each one of the 4,000 U.S. military deaths in Iraq is significant and tragic but one that doesn't yet count -- let's call him #4001 -- offers more of a clue to the true dimensions of the war than most of the rest.

Sgt. James W. McDonald, 26, who had undergone extensive head and facial surgery after an IED blast in Iraq last May, was found dead in his barracks apartment at Ft. Hood last November. It has not been labeled suicide or accidental -- but also, somehow, not counted as related to his service in Iraq.

"I don't want it to be an undetermined cause of death," his mother, Joan McDonald of Neenah, Wisc., says. "That is ridiculous." She has asked Sen. Russ Feingold to help get some answers.

An autopsy could not determine the exact cause of death, but medical experts couldn't rule out that "traumatic brain injury" might have been a factor, a base spokeswoman said.

"If my son was not at the war, he would not be dead, plain and simple," the mother tells AP. "He was a strong healthy boy. ... Don't tell me it was unrelated to the war. I will never accept that."

Tom Wilborn, a spokesman for Disabled American Veterans in Washington, told AP the question of whether McDonald was an official war casualty was the first that he was aware of from the Iraq war. "But it happened a lot during Vietnam," he said.

A Government Accountability Office study found that of soldiers who required a medical evacuation for battle-related injuries in Iraq or Afghanistan, 30 percent suffered a traumatic brain injury.

Joan McDonald says her son helped build a memorial wall at Fort Hood to honor its soldiers killed in Iraq. "I want his name on that wall," she said.
Greg Mitchell's new book is So Wrong for So Long: How the Press, the Pundits-- and the President -- Failed in Iraq. It features a preface by Bruce Springsteen and foreword by Joe Galloway, and has been hailed by our own Arianna, Bill Moyers, and Glenn Greenwald, among others.