War in Iraq has huge cost of dollars spent, lives lost
The government expects to spend $59 billion a year to compensated injured warriors in 25 years, up from this year's $29 billion.
The Bush administration has been lowballing the cost of the war in Iraq since it began more than five years ago, and the true surge will not be known for decades. Internal documents obtained by The Associated Press indicate that the cost of care for disabled veterans will more than double today's expenditures. That may be erring on the low side but still is intolerable.
The government now spends $29 billion a year in compensation to injured warriors, including those from previous wars, but that figure is expected to reach $59 billion in 25 years. As chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, Sen. Daniel Akaka is working toward improving medical care and rehabilitation of disabled veterans but that task is overwhelming.
When U.S. troops invaded Iraq, then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld estimated the cost of the war would not exceed $60 billion. So far, the official appropriation for Iraq and Afghanistan has reached $600 billion, and that also is an underestimate of the true cost of the war.
In a new book, "The Three Trillion Dollar War," economics professors Linda J. Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz, winner of the 2001 Nobel Prize for Economics, point out that the Pentagon classifies more than half of the soldiers who have had to be medically evacuated from the war zones as noncombat casualties. Those include soldiers injured during vehicle and helicopter crashes and training accidents.
"If the second vehicle in a convoy crashes into the first, which has been blown up by I.E.D., is it an accident?" the authors ask. "Or should any killed and wounded be counted as combat casualties? If a helicopter crashes in a night flight because it is too dangerous to fly during the day, should we think of this, too, as just an accident?"
Taxpayers now spend $4.3 billion a year in disability compensation to veterans of the 1991 Gulf War, which lasted only a few weeks. Some 44 percent of those veterans applied for disability compensation and 90 percent of their claims have been approved. Applying those percentages to Iraq war veterans, Stiglitz and Bilmes estimate a price tag of $590 billion over those veterans' lifetimes, not including the projected $38 billion in Social Security disability-compensation benefits to Iraq war veterans who no longer can work.
The highest cost, of course, is measured in the more than 4,000 lives lost and 65,000 wounded, injured and diseased -- amputations and burns that would have been lethal in previous wars, post-traumatic stress disorder, blindness, spinal injuries or exotic illnesses.