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Grim Echoes of Iraq, Afghanistan in Veterans Policies

Chris Hondros/Getty Images File Photo
Marcos Muniz, right, a sergeant in the Army, jokes with his friend Nathan Greene, a fellow sergeant, after arriving at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in 2006 in Landstuhl, Germany. The military has treated some 40,000 survivors with severe to moderate brain injuries suffered in connection with the wars, according to the Congressional Research Service.

The costs of caring for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have not yet hit the federal budget in a big way. There will be decades of disability benefit payments and the costs associated with sophisticated medical treatments needed to address injuries, such as the loss of more than one limb to roadside bombs. A study published in a VA journal found that average lifetime costs for prosthetics needed by an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran who lost multiple limbs might average $2.9 million.

Bilmes has proposed starting a trust fund for veterans that would ensure future service capabilities. Congress could appropriate money for this trust fund while appropriating for armed conflicts, she said. This approach would force lawmakers to consider how much Americans would have to spend in total expenses for wars.

It would more closely approximate what the costs of war are, Bilmes said. We should be setting aside some money and investing it.

Creating such a trust fund also might help veterans stake their claims to needed federal dollars in the future if support for veterans services weakens as the Iraq and Afghanistan wars slip deeper into the past.

At this point, its hard to now know what the public attitude will be, she said.

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