OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — If history is any judge, the U.S. government will be paying for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for the next century as service members and their families grapple with the sacrifices of combat.
An Associated Press analysis of federal payment records found that the government is still making monthly payments to relatives of Civil War veterans — 148 years after the conflict ended.
At the 10-year anniversary of the start of the Iraqwar, more than $40 billion a year is going to compensate veterans and survivors from the Spanish-American War from 1898, World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the two Iraq campaigns and the Afghanistan conflict. And those costs are rising rapidly.
Sen. Patty Murray, Washington Democrat, said such expenses should remind the nation about war’s long-lasting financial toll.
“When we decide to go to war, we have to consciously be also thinking about the cost,” said Mrs. Murray, adding that her WWII-veteran father’s disability benefits helped feed their family.
Alan K. Simpson, a former Republican senator from Wyoming and a veteran who co-chaired President Obama’s deficit committee in 2010, said government leaders working to limit the national debt should make sure that survivors of veterans need the money they are receiving.
“Without question, I would affluence-test all of those people,” Mr. Simpson said.
With greater numbers of troops surviving combat injuries because of improvements in battlefield medicine and technology, the costs of disability payments are set to rise much higher.
The AP identified the disability and survivor benefits during an analysis of millions of federal payment records obtained under the Freedom of Information Act.
To gauge the post-war costs of each conflict, AP looked at four compensation programs that identify recipients by war: disabled veterans; survivors of those who died on active duty or from a service-related disability; low-income wartime vets over age 65 or disabled; and low-income survivors of wartime veterans or their disabled children.
The Iraq wars and Afghanistan
So far, the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the first Persian Gulf conflict in the early 1990s are costing about $12 billion a year to compensate those who have left military service or family members of those who have died.
Those post-service compensation costs have totaled more than $50 billion since 2003, not including expenses of medical care and other benefits provided to veterans, and are poised to grow for many years to come.
The new veterans are filing for disabilities at historic rates, with about 45 percent of those from Iraq and Afghanistan seeking compensation for injuries. Many are seeking compensation for a variety of ailments at once.
Experts see a variety of factors driving that surge, including a bad economy that’s led more jobless veterans to seek the financial benefits they’ve earned, troops who survive wounds of war, and more awareness about head trauma and mental health.