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The Costs of War
Posted by on December 5th, 2011

From our partners at

By BJ Bjornson

Some recommended reading for everyone from McClatchy on an issue that usually doesn’t get much press coverage when it comes to paying for wars, the costs of treating the veterans after the war has ended.

Some choice quotes:

The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be winding down, but the long-term costs of caring for those wounded in battle is on path to rival the costs of the Vietnam War.

. . .

According to VA and Department of Defense information compiled by the advocacy group Veterans for Common Sense, 2.2 million service members have deployed to one of the wars since Sept. 11, 2001; 942,000 have deployed two or more times.

Of those, 6,300 service members have died, and 46,000 have suffered non-fatal wounds in action. But more than 600,000 veterans have filed for VA disability benefits, and more than 700,000 have been treated in the VA's medical system.

"Right now, VA is getting about 10,000 new Iraq and Afghanistan claims and patients per month," said Paul Sullivan, executive director of the National Organization of Veterans' Advocates, which helps veterans file their disability claims. "The numbers are devastating."

. . .

Veterans today are applying with greater frequency and greater urgency than in years past.

Part of that, Bilmes said, is the nature of these wars. In previous wars, a general seeing a brigade under stress might have pulled it back — putting the soldiers on kitchen duty for a while, she said. Now, those functions are being handled by contractors, eliminating that relief valve.

"The guys who are out in the field are relentlessly out in the field," she said.

Beyond that, far more soldiers in this all-volunteer military have been back for two, three, four or five tours, and the long-term impact on hearing and on traumatic brain injuries caused by improvised explosive devices will be felt for years.

That last point is one that speaks to me, as it has come up many times before, though I hadn’t made the distinction regarding the use of contractors for non-combat work interfering with the means to give troops some down time before this.

The U.S., and the other countries involved in Iraq and Afghanistan, have been fighting these wars with their armies still more or less at peacetime levels, so as to not inconvenience the voting public too much, or make the more direct costs of the war all that visible beyond the relatively small population of those serving and their families. The burdens of these wars are being felt disproportionately on a very small group, and their limited size is concentrating that stress and burden to a degree it never would otherwise.

This is part of the arguments used by those looking for a reinstatement of the draft, a means of sharing the sacrifice far more equally as well as making starting such wars a lot more politically difficult.

The main point, however, is that the U.S. will be feeling the effects of these wars at home, and paying for them, for a long, long time.

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