Veterans Continue to Pay Long After Serving

veteran, VA, clinic
Thank you for your service. Photo credit: DonkeyHotey / WhoWhatWhy (CC BY-SA 2.0) See complete attribution below.

A new study on the cost of the various US wars and military engagements since 2001 has revealed that, so far, taxpayers are on the hook for $4.3 trillion. Of that total, only about 5% has been spent on providing medical care and disability benefits to veterans of the Global War on Terror (GWOT).

While that $277 billion figure is dwarfed by the overall spending — the estimated interest on the added debt is $534 billion — it doesn’t accurately reflect the toll the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have taken on the men and women in uniform. We think that Veterans Day is a good occasion to remind Americans — and people everywhere — of the human cost these military actions have extracted, as well as the obstacles veterans continue to face today.

For starters, more than one million US service members who have fought in the War on Terror now receive some form of disability payments from the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Almost 900,000 of them are classified as at least 30% disabled.

Those who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq are suffering from a much higher rate of brain injuries, including post-traumatic stress disorder. Since the start of the war in Afghanistan, more than 300,000 veterans have been diagnosed with brain injuries and that figure likely will increase.

Not coincidentally, the rate and number of veterans who are killing themselves have also skyrocketed. As WhoWhatWhy has reported, suicide has become a hidden epidemic for veterans. On average nearly once per hour, one of them takes his or her own life.

While the number of homeless veterans has dropped significantly in recent years, on any given night tens of thousands of vets (estimates range from 40,000 to 50,000) are homeless. It would only cost $1 billion to provide all of them with a home for the year.

In addition, there have been high-profile problems with access to care, such as those illustrated in the 2014 VA wait-time scandal. However, other related issues are not as well documented. For example, veterans with mental health issues may be required to go to a walk-in clinic for treatment but such a facility might not be anywhere near them.

There are some bright spots in this generally bleak picture. As noted, veteran homelessness has decreased by 50% since the start of the decade. In response to the 2014 scandal, Congress created the Veterans Choice program, which gives eligible veterans the option of receiving private health care. The upside of the program is that it provides improved access to care. The downside is that it keeps running out of money. However, that should literally be a small price to pay to ensure that veterans get help when they need it.

President Donald Trump has vowed that he will make taking care of veterans a priority, but it is still too early to tell whether his promises will result in tangible benefits. For Trump, this would seem like a political no-brainer. It’s not just the right thing to do —  it would also play to his base.

But that’s also part of the problem veterans continue to face. They are often held up as a prop; but, when it comes to providing real solutions to their problems, those waving flags on Veterans Day often cannot be found.

The cartoon above was created by DonkeyHotey for WhoWhatWhy from these images: man in wheelchair (danielvasome / Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0), building (J. Albert Bowden II / Flickr – CC BY 2.0), parking lot (Virginia State Parks staff / Wikimedia – CC BY 2.0), maze (grafikacesky / Pixabay), ribbon (Defense Logistics Agency / Wikimedia) and VA logo (VA).

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4 responses to “Veterans Continue to Pay Long After Serving”

  1. MensaFem162 says:

    The trillions earned by hardworking Americans have been misappropriated by a corrupt and incompetent government for the past 30 years. Millions of lives have been ended or irreparably harmed by their actions, and veterans have suffered more than most. The powerful shadow rulers’ lust for money and control has reached a crescendo; the viability of humanity is in jeopardy from a range of man-made threats, including nuclear annihilation.

    From George H.W. Bush through Obama, our rights have been impeded, curtailed and corrupted. It’s time to hold government to account. Every single member of Congress must be removed. We must place our trust in God, and return to the constitutional principles our Republic was founded on. The Republican vs Democrat division is a farce. We are not represented in Congress, we are considered slaves by the bankers and puppet masters who rule our nation. We need to elevate and elect educated patriots to represent individual Americans, it’s time to differentiate between good and evil.

  2. disqus_ZBXJDbYJHe says:

    With all the money we have spent on the wealthy people, corporations, the Pentagon and the veterans for the last 37 years, we are certainly not getting our money’s worth when that money could been spent on better salaries for the American workforce, schools, affordable/free education, medical, mental health, dental, and vision care, longer and better training for police officers, criminal justice reform, etc.

  3. DW says:

    Oregon Senator Ron Wyden once asked his Veterans’ Affairs specialist if there was one thing he should do for Vets, what should that be? The answer: Stop making them.

  4. Jason BMW says:

    And yet the stupid American electorate puts war loving Republicans in power year after year.