The Continuing Cost of War
by James Glaser
February 19, 2012
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Whenever you go to a VA clinic or hospital, you can see right away that there are very young veterans, very old veterans, and every age in-between. Let me tell you, it is just as sad to see an old man without legs as it is to see a young one. It is just as sad because most likely that old man lost his legs when he was young, too.

Washington tells us that the Iraq War is over and that the troops have come home. Sometimes you hear talk about a peace dividend, because we are no longer shooting bullets or dropping bombs. That's true, but the costs of taking care of those who fought keep going up for decades after a war is over.

16,112,566 individuals were members of the United States armed forces during World War II. There were 291,557 battle deaths, 113,842 other deaths in service (non-theater), and 670,846 non-mortal woundings. In November 2011, the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that approximately 1,711,000 American veterans were still living.

World War II ended 67 years ago, and we are still providing health care for way over one million veterans from that war. Medical care gets more expensive as a person ages, and the cost of the care of these remaining veterans is high. The same is true for our aging Korean War veterans and Vietnam vets, and all the veterans who served between those two wars.

ABC news reports the number of veterans we have so far from the Bush/Obama War on Terror.

In the decade since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, 2,333,972 American military personnel had been deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan or both, as of Aug. 30, 2011. Of that total, 1,353, 627 have since left the military and 711,986 have used VA health care between fiscal year 2002 and the third-quarter fiscal year 2011.

When you use one of the VA Health care facilities today, you can see what this current influx of new veterans has done to the system. Longer waits for appointments, crowed waiting rooms, and the wait time in line for tests that took minutes a few years ago can take hours today.

It won't be long before the number of new veterans reaches 3 million, and with better medical care we should expect our veteran population to live longer than those from World War II veterans have. We could easily be looking at another 80 years of providing health care for our current crop of veterans, and the cost will only increase with the years.

ABC News reports that there are now 22,658,000 veterans, and while not every veteran uses the VA system for their health care, many do. There are now 8 million veterans enrolled with the VA, and over 5 million get their health care there. The 2012 VA budget will be $132,000,000,000.00—a number we commonly call $132 billion dollars. That works out to many trillions of dollars for future veteran health care even if we disbanded our military today. Of course we are not going to disband our military, and it looks like we will continue on with our almost constant state of war and our constant replenishment of VA Health Care system patients.

So, we as a nation should all know that the cost of a war Washington reports to us never includes the ongoing cost of taking care for those we send to fight for us. Those costs will continue on for many decades even if we someday figure out how to live in peace with the rest of the world. Only then will this cost start to go down.

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