Increasing numbers of U.S. troops have left the military with damaged bodies and minds, an ever-larger pool of disabled veterans that will cost the nation billions for decades to come — even as the total population of America’s vets has begun to shrink.
Despite the decline in total vets — as soldiers from World War II and Korea die — the government expects to be spending $59 billion a year to compensate injured warriors in 25 years, up from today’s $29 billion, according to internal documents obtained by The Associated Press. And the Veterans Affairs Department concedes the bill could be much higher.
Worse wounds. More disabilities. More vets aware of the benefits and quicker to file for them.
Also, ironically, advanced medical care. Troops come home with devastating injuries that might well have killed them in earlier wars.
Time is also a factor when it comes to disability compensation costs. Payments tend to go up as veterans age, and an increasing number of soldiers from the Vietnam War will be getting bigger payments as they get older and are less able to work around their disabilities.
The number of disabled veterans has jumped by 25 percent since 2001 — to 2.9 million — and the cause really is no mystery.
“This is a cost of war,” says Steve Smithson, a deputy director at the American Legion. “We’re still producing veterans. We’ve been in a war in Iraq for five years now, and the war on terror since 9/11.”
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