Soldiers Returning From Iraq and Afghanistan: The Long-term Costs of Providing Veterans Medical Care and Disability Benefits

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This paper analyzes the long-term needs of veterans returning from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, and the budgetary and structural consequences of these needs. The paper uses data from government sources, such as theVeterans Benefit Administration Annual Report.  The main conclusions of the analysis are that:

(a) the Veterans Health Administration(VHA) is already overwhelmed by the volume of returning veterans and the seriousness of their health care needs, and it will not be able to provide a high quality of care in a timely fashion to the large wave of returning war veterans without greater funding and increased capacity in areas such as psychiatric care;

(b) the Veterans BenefitsAdministration (VBA) is in need of structural reforms in order to deal with the high volume of pending claims; the current claims process is unable to handle even the current volume and completely inadequate to cope with the high demand of returning war veterans;  and

(c) the budgetary costs of providing disability compensation benefits and medical care to the veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan over the course of their lives will be from $350 – $700 Billion, depending on the length of deployment of US soldiers, the speed with which they claim disability benefits and the growth rate of benefits and health care inflation.

Key recommendations include: increase staffing and funding for veterans medical care particularly for mental health treatment; expand staffing and funding for the “Vet Centers,” and restructure the benefits claim process at the Veterans Benefit Administration.

from Bilmes, Linda “Soldiers Returning From Iraq and Afghanistan: The Long-term Costs of Providing Veterans Medical Care and Disability Benefits.” Paper prepared for presentation at the ASSA meeting, 2007

Download the full paper here as a PDF.

This website is inspired by the book The Three Trillion Dollar War and will continue to tell the story of the costs of this war. Apart from its tragic human toll, the Iraq War will be staggeringly expensive in financial terms. In The Three Trillion Dollar War, Nobel Prize winner Joseph E. Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda J. Bilmes cast a spotlight on expense items that have been hidden from the U.S. taxpayer, including not only big-ticket items like replacing military equipment (being used up at six times the peacetime rate) but also the cost of caring for thousands of wounded veterans—for the rest of their lives. Shifting to a global focus, the authors investigate the cost in lives and economic damage within Iraq and the region. Finally, with the chilling precision of an actuary, the authors measure what the U.S. taxpayer’s money would have produced if instead it had been invested in the further growth of the U.S. economy. Written in language as simple as the details are disturbing, this book will forever change the way we think about the war.

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