Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Harvard professor Linda Bilmes have co-authored a book looking at the real costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and have determined that the conflicts have cost more than $3 trillion. They also estimate that the future medical, disability and Social Security costs for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans will range from $422 billion to $717 billion. As any reader of the VFA website knows, the impact of the injuries from these wars is already acute, and with delayed-onset post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other ailments that may not manifest for months or years, these costs will only grow. Planning for how America will care for those it sent into harm’s way must begin now. If it does not, not only the veterans will suffer, but the rest of society will too.
The strain on the military has grown to be a larger and larger issue this week. The Pentagon announced that after the units sent in the “surge” are withdrawn by the end of July, 140,000 American servicemembers will remain in Iraq. That’s 8,000 more than when the surge began. There will also be 32,000 troops in Afghanistan, 4,000 more than there are currently. Gen. George Casey, the Army Chief of Staff, testified before several congressional committees that reducing tours from fifteen months to twelve “has to happen.” “Our soldiers are deploying too frequently, and we can’t sustain that. It’s impacting on their families; it’s impacting on their mental health — we just can’t keep going at the rate we are going,” Casey said. While Casey explicitly denied that the Army is “broken,” Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) told reporters: “We’re breaking our force structure…We’re in serious, serious trouble.” While the debate over whether or not the force is broken went on in Washington, the 3rd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment deployed to its fifth tour, the first in the Marine Corps to be sent five times since September 11, 2001.
Governors also sought to make the state of the National Guard an issue. Representatives of the National Governors Association met with President Bush and Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the joint chiefs, and voiced their concerns about care for guardsmen with mental injuries and the state of Guard equipment. Gov. Chet Culver (D-IA) said that guardsmen in Iowa need more help with mental and medical problems when they return from deployment since it’s a rural state with no major military facilities. Both Culver and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) made the point that the fact that their units leave half of their equipment in Iraq when they come home leaves their states vulnerable, both in terms of training opportunities for the Guard and potentially in terms of response to natural disasters.