Long-Term Consequences of War

2012 June 3
by SJ Leeds

In the past, I’ve written about Social Security Disability Insurance.  In today’s article, I’m discussing something that sounds similar but is actually very different – disability payments for veterans.  This is not part of Social Security.


These numbers are astounding, but I have to say that I have completely different views on this (than Social Security disability) – if you go to war for our country, we need to do whatever we can to thank you and help you.  Regardless, these numbers are significant to our financial future.  Here they are:


Approximately 45% of the 1.6 million veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking disability compensation.  This contrasts with 21% after the Gulf War.


So far, almost 1/3 have been granted disability.


Remember that there are still almost 1.5 million members of the U.S. military deployed in war zones or combat missions.  Many of them will return and make disability claims.


The new veterans are claiming eight to nine ailments on average.  The most recent veterans are claiming 11 to 14.  Contrast this with Vietnam vets who are receiving compensation for four ailments (on average) and WWII and Korean War vets who are receiving compensation for two ailments (on average).


The average wait to get a disability claim processed is now eight months.


Payments range from $127 / month for a 10% disability to $2,769 for a full disability.  There is no money set aside for these payments.


Disability claims from all veterans increased from 888,000 (2008) to 1.3 million (2011).  (Last year’s number included more than 230K new claims from Vietnam veterans because of a change in what conditions can be considered to be related to Agent Orange exposure.)


28% of those filing disability claims are from the Reserves and National Guard.


The cost of caring for veterans rises for several decades and peaks 30 to 40 years later.  Harvard economist Linda Bilmes estimates the health care and disability costs of the recent wars at $600 billion to $900 billion.


Some of the factors resulting in these higher claims include:

A. multiple deployments

B. more troops surviving wounds (improved battlefield care and body armor)

C. increased awareness of problems (such as concussions and PTSD)

D. aggressive outreach and advocacy programs that have brought veterans into the system

E. increased exposure to battle (many recent vets saw conflict several days per week while many vets from prior wars saw conflicts with less frequency)

F. the weak economy.


Some of the data that we have on injuries:

–       more than 1,600 have lost a limb (many others have lost fingers or toes)


–       at least 156 are blind (thousands of others have impaired vision)


–       more than 177,000 have hearing loss and more than 350,000 report tinnitus (noise or ringing in the ears)


–       ¼ of battlefield injuries requiring evacuation included wounds to the face or jaw


–       more than 400,000 of the new veterans have been treated for a mental health problem (most commonly PTSD)


–       tens of thousands suffered traumatic brain injury (TBI) – mostly mild concussions from bomb blasts; roughly 20% of active duty troops suffered concussions (but only 1/3 of them have symptoms lasting beyond a few months)


–       many new veterans have back, shoulder and knee problems (from carrying packs and wearing body armor); one study showed that 19% required orthopedic surgery consultations and 4% needed surgery after returning from combat


More than 6,400 members of the U.S. military have died in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and at least 48,000 more have been wounded.  (The total number of coalition troops that have died is 7,700; obviously, the majority of these deaths were Americans)


Out of the 7,700 coalition deaths, at least 3,171 resulted from improvised explosive devices (IEDs).


I tend to think about the members of the military a lot.  Aside from the risk that all of these men and women are taking, I always think about how difficult it would be to be separated from your family – particularly your children who might not understand exactly what you’re doing.  Of course, the numbers in this blog serve as a good reminder that the sacrifice of our troops is not just a short-term sacrifice.  Even those that make it back home are often impacted for the rest of their lives.  Thanks to all the veterans.


Have a great week.

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