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Report: Cost of caring for veterans of post-9/11 wars could reach $2.5T by 2050

By Jonna Lorenz
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Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit process Department of State personnel for evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday. Photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell/USMC/UPI
Marines of the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit process Department of State personnel for evacuation at Hamid Karzai International Airport, Kabul, Afghanistan, on Sunday. Photo by Sgt. Isaiah Campbell/USMC/UPI | License Photo

Aug. 18 (UPI) -- The total cost of caring for U.S. veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan could reach $2.5 trillion by 2050, according to a report released Wednesday by Brown University's Costs of War Project.

The amount, which includes the costs of disability benefits and medical care already incurred along with projected future costs, is double that of previous projections made by the project in 2011 and 2013, the report says.

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Factors contributing to the rise include high rates of disabilities among the veterans, increased efforts to inform veterans of their eligibility for benefits, more generous eligibility and compensation, and more advanced and expensive medical care.

While the number of living U.S. veterans from all wars fell to 18.5 million in fiscal year 2020 from 25.3 million in 2001, the proportion of federal expenditures to care for veterans doubled from 2.4% of the federal budget to 4.9%.

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More than 40% of veterans who served in post-9/11 wars have been approved to receive lifetime disability benefits.

The report breaks down estimated costs from 2001 to 2050 as follows:

  • $853 billion to $903 billion in medical expenditures
  • $1.228 trillion to $1.497 trillion in disability and benefits expenditures
  • $100 billion to $106 billion in VA Administration expenditures
  • $50 billion to $69 billion in Social Security disability expenditures.
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The report doesn't include economic losses from losses to the labor force, costs to state and local programs, costs associated with those who remain in the military and receive care through the TRICARE program, or medical benefits for military contractors injured during conflict.

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"The analysis presented in this paper shows that regardless of whether the U.S. withdraws its troops from Afghanistan by September 2021 as planned, and shortly withdraws U.S. service members from Iraq, the U.S. government will continue to pay trillions of dollars stemming from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts for decades to come," the report concludes.

"The conflict may fade from the news media, but it will not fade from the national balance sheet."

The study raises concerns, including whether the United States will continue to honor its financial obligation to veterans and whether congressional appropriations for war underestimate costs and urges the establishment of a national veteran's trust fund.

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"The cost of these wars in blood, toil and treasure will endure for the next half-century," the report said.

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