Cost of caring for Afghanistan, Iraq veterans extends beyond federal government to states

New reports examine Rhode Island and Texas

WASHINGTON, D.C. - The federal government has spent $4.4 trillion fighting the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is expected to spend another $600 billion to $1 trillion caring for the veterans in the next 40 years. There, of course, is no neat dollar value for the price of human suffering, for the time spent serving overseas, for the challenges of returning home. But two new research papers from Brown University’s Watson Institute show the often-unrecognized level of state spending on veteran care, which further reflects how big the challenges are for veterans in the post-9/11 era.

The case studies, part of the Watson Institute’s Costs of War project, put a lens on veteran spending in Rhode Island and Texas, estimating that between 2001 and 2014 Texas has spent roughly $786.4 million on veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Veteran care during that same period cost Rhode Island between $73.6 million and $79.8 million.

The researchers looked at money spent on medical care, retirement, housing, employment benefits and other veteran-centered programs. Beyond official state allocations, the research took into account money from private nonprofits and charities as well as the money spent by individual cities. The Texas paper, with a larger population examine, was able to explore some of the incurred costs in cities such as San Antonio and Austin, but the Rhode Island study could not provide substantive results about municipality spending.

There is an undeniable element of human experience that can’t be divorced from the decade that the so-called Gulf War Era II veterans spent in Iraq and Afghanistan. The Costs of War project also focuses on these non-monetary expenses, such as the toll on military families and the casualties in wars, more heavily in other publications, but even the Texas budgetary analysis scratches the surface of these long-term effects through veteran suicide spending. In addition to the tragic loss of life, the financial impact of the 481 Texas veterans who committed suicide between 2001 and 2011 has cost the state $478,587,670 in medical expenses and lost productivity.

Researchers stressed that gaining a full understanding of veteran spending, which is expected to balloon as Afghanistan and Iraq vets age, is an important policy influencer.

“Our research to date has documented the staggering costs of war to our nation—in terms of human suffering, federal dollars, and lost opportunities,” said project co-director Catherine Lutz in a statement. “These costs are amplified by billions of dollars spent by states, cities and other entities across the country. This is important information for policymakers and taxpayers alike.”

Rhode Island was chosen because its veteran population (8.7 percent) is close to the national average (9 percent). Researchers chose Texas because it is second only to California in the number of veterans, somewhere around a quarter of a million, who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.

[Also by Abby Johnston:  Run for U.S House of Representatives]

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