The Big Story Blog

The long-term costs of aiding Iraq war vets

Posted at 11:48 AM on December 13, 2011 by Paul Tosto

The last U.S. troops will be pulling out of Iraq this month but caring for their long term health needs will mean decades of costs, officials say.

The federal government spent nearly $2 billion last year to treat 400,000 patients connected to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Congressional Budget Office estimates those costs will total $55 billion between 2011 and 2020. That's an average $5.5 billion annually, nearly triple last year's cost.

Excerpts on veterans' health from the CBO report:

Eligible for help. Of the 2.3 million active-duty military personnel and reservists who had deployed to combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan by the end of March 2011, 1.3 million have become eligible for VA's health care services. Of those 1.3 million people, almost 685,000 (52 percent) have sought medical care from VHA since 2002.

Post traumatic stress. By the end of March, about 75,000 service members had been diagnosed with post traumatic stress syndrome, either during their deployment to an overseas contingency operation or after their return.

Brain injuries. Through March defense department doctors had diagnosed traumatic brain injury symptoms in 35,000 service members during or just after they returned from deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. About 90 percent of those were classified as a concussion in which the brain typically heals quickly

Survival rates. The survival rate of troops wounded in Iraq is higher than the survival rate during the Vietnam War: 90.2 percent of the service members wounded in action during Operation Iraqi Freedom survived their wounds versus 86.5 percent of all troops wounded during the Vietnam War. Had the survival rate after being wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom been equal to the rate prevailing during the Vietnam War, about 1,300 additional wounded service members--the equivalent of two battalions -- would have died in the operation.

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About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.