The state's military grave markers of those killed in Southwest Asia now number 208 on this, officially, Memorial Day 2007. We've posted 13 new obituaries


The War Math

208 state troops dead; $2 trillon cost?

The state's military grave markers of those killed in Southwest Asia now number 208 on this, officially, Memorial Day 2007. We've posted 13 new obituaries of troops with Washington connections in Iraq, bringing the Asia toll to 202; six more died within the few days after it was written.

Ages 18 to 53, the state's dead of Afghanistan, the Philippines, Pakistan, and Iraq left behind these additional costs: 114 children, 90 widows, and two widowers.

Another cost  - in dollars - is now being projected at more than $2 trillion. Former Defense Secretary Don Rumsfeld once predicted the war would run "something under $50 billion dollars," and called $300 billion projections "baloney." Crag Speeter of the National Priorities Project, whose website tracks the price tag to the second, says the cost so far is $430-plus billion. Not factored in, but just as important, other experts say, are the natural resources we've used up in the war that are never to be replaced, beginning with oil.

Harvard economist Linda Bilmes thinks the true war-cost figure is considerably higher when other long term liabilities are added. Depending on when the war ends, the price tag can range up to $2 trillion, she maintains, when including such liabilities as increased oil prices, the interest on the war debt, and "resetting" the military - bringing forces back up to snuff and replacing equipment. 

A 2007 study by Bilmes, of Harvard's John F. Kennedy School of Government, produced some other starting conclusions. Bilmes assessed the long-term needs of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and the budgetary and structural consequences of their needs. Her main conclusions:

The Veterans Health Administration 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;

The Veterans Benefits Administration 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

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 to $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.

She recommends increased staffing and funding for veterans medical care, particularly for mental health treatment; expanded staffing and funding for Vet Centers; and restructuring the benefits claim process at the Veterans Benefit Adminstration, noting:

President Bush is now asking for more money to spend on recruiting in order to boost the size of the Army and deploy more troops to Iraq. But what about taking care of those same soldiers when they return home as veterans?...There has been a tendency in the media to focus on the number of US deaths in Iraq, rather than the volume of wounded, injured, or sick. This may have led the public to underestimate the deadliness and long-term impact of the war on civilian society and the government's pocketbook...

Happy Memorial Day.

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