As we prepare to make another excursion into the Middle East, one thing comes to mind for me: Veterans.
There has never in the history of the United States, to my limited knowledge, been a war which has been fought with the foresight of veteran’s care being taken into account. We manage to hype up the danger to American citizens about how our freedom is being encroached upon, turn to jingoistic rhetoric, and demand unilateral action against an enemy thousands of miles away. But never, nay – not once, do we make plans ahead of time to prepare for the cost of what happens after the war.
It’s an age-old problem which fails to be addressed despite decades, and to be quite frank centuries, of repeated failure.
As recently as Vietnam we saw the epic failure of the American populace to think into the future implications of jumping into a war, although Vietnam itself stands apart from prior wars as it never had Congressional oversight (was not declared a war) and was the result of Presidential overreach by the Executive Branch, which ultimately ended in the passage of the War Powers Resolution of 1973, ensuring that the President could never conduct a long-term war or conflict without the approval of Congress again.
However, that may be all moot as the United States Congress hasn’t declared war since 1942. But I digress…
I utilized the Bureau of Labor Statistics inflation calculator to adjust to 2014 dollars. The numbers linked will be in 2010 dollars and 2003 dollars.
The cost to fight in Vietnam (adjusted for inflation) was over $992 billion. However, the short-sightedness of every administration when it comes to long-term economic responsibilities never takes into account the cost of caring for those veterans. The bill to take care of Vietnam veterans (again adjusted for inflation) is over $1.3 trillion.
There was an epic failure involved with the return of Vietnam veterans at that time in our nation as well. I’m sure there needs to be no elaboration on that point. I have a close friend of mine who speaks to me often of his return after Vietnam and how veterans of all stripes, creeds, and political inclinations banded together when a conflict with Iraq seemed inevitable to ensure that our generation of veterans would not receive the same type of snubbing from the government that they did. Nonetheless, it still does not go far enough. In order to adequately care for veterans it is of the utmost importance to ensure that we include the TRUTH when giving a sales pitch to the American public about the cost of a war.
But that’s not politically solvent, so the lies perpetually continue regardless of who holds office.
The costs of war go beyond the fight. The mental, emotional, and physical infirmities inflicted upon service members always cost more than the actual conflict – as those continue on for decades after any conflict is over. And it seems this President, with his proposal, wants to appease the hawks while pretending that he can conduct another long-scale action of force protection without planning for the cost to those bearing the brunt of the sacrifice.
Whether you agree or not with action against ISIS isn’t the point of this article. Whether we sit on the sidelines and watch these Islamic radicals terrorize their small region of the world or we get involved directly or in a support role – the administration needs to be honest about the true cost of any action. Doing nothing is probably not an option at this point. Doing something will certainly cost us.
President Bush’s lack of foresight into the far-reaching implications of Iraq and Afghanistan are being felt by many veterans today. The wars alone cost around $3 trillion. The cost of paying out for the veterans who have been marred and maimed in these conflicts are estimated to stretch out over the next 40 years in a conservative estimate of another $1 trillion. Although, most estimates put the total cost of both wars at around $6 trillion.
Finally, although veterans’ care comprises the fourth largest category of government spending, the magnitude of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans’ costs is grossly understated in government projections. There is no provision set aside to cover these future obligations. Given that our pledge to care for veterans is a form of “deferred compensation”, we should appropriate funds for these inevitable long-term costs at the time we budget for the wars in which they will fight.
-Watson Institute for International Studies, Brown University
If history has taught us anything, it’s that the true cost of whatever this next intervention is, the President will lie; Congress will lie; the Congressional Budget Office will lie. It will be at least twice what they anticipate and America is either none the wiser or so bloodthirsty that they are willing to put aside facts and real numbers in order to send their sons and daughters off to kill more brown people because potato.
Before I end my rant consider this: We still have troops in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Whether they be in support roles, supervisory roles, or actively engaged in combat (remember that Al Asad holds at least 350 Marines and is being attacked by ISIS) the cost to hold one single service member in country is still in the millions. For one person.
If you slap a yellow ribbon on your car and you run around saying you “support the troops” but you aren’t following through with it by insisting that veteran care is included in any appropriations bill for any conflict, then you certainly need to rethink your definition of “support.” Jingoism and lip-service do no good to the 22 veterans a day that kill themselves for the lack of available mental health services that should have been afforded them from the start.
I don’t support this endeavor, not due to any political or social factors but because I know that my brothers and sisters in arms will be left by the wayside again. If VA expenditures are included in the declaration prior to any action being taken, I may decide to look into publicizing whether or not I agree with action against ISIS. I’m just tired of the lip service. I’m tired of the empty thanks. I’m tired of the failed promises. When more veterans die from the enemy in their heads than from the conflicts overseas I see where the real failings and shortcomings are. And I see an American public supporting the preservation of that status quo.
Feature Image: Wikimedia Commons