John Ibbitson / Globe and Mail & Kavita Mishra / San Francisco Chronicle – 2007-05-10 08:40:41
Real Costs of US War on Terror Yet To Be Borne
John Ibbitson / Globe and Mail
WASHINGTON (May 9, 2007) — The latest dreary statistic: The war on terror has become more expensive than Vietnam. The real costs, however, have yet to be paid, or even determined.
Congressional leaders and White House staffers are haggling over how to replace the war-funding bill that President George W. Bush vetoed last week.
The final figure for this year will be about $140-billion (US) — which, when added to the $609-billion already spent, makes the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns more expensive than Vietnam — more expensive, in fact, than any US war other than the Second World War, in constant 2006 US dollars.
The US economy is experiencing none of the inflationary trauma that the Vietnam War precipitated, because the economy is much larger than it was then. As The Washington Post observed yesterday , the Iraq campaign is consuming less than 1 per cent of US gross domestic product, and overall defence expenditures, at 4 per cent of GDP, are less than half of what they were during Vietnam, which consumed 9 per cent of GDP at its peak.
Further, not only has the Bush administration not raised taxes to pay for the war, which would slow economic growth, it has actually cut taxes, and is determined not to reverse the policy — which is why on the home front this war feels phony.
That does not mean, however, that the Americans are waging war for free. Economically and psychologically, the real costs have yet to be borne.
Joseph Stiglitz, who won the Nobel Prize for economics in 2001, and Linda Bilmes, an economist at the Kennedy School, Harvard University, authored a report late last year that estimated the direct costs to the federal treasury of the war in Iraq would come in around $1-trillion, and that macroeconomic costs, such as higher oil prices and increased insecurity, will add another $1-trillion to the final tab.
(And they did not anticipate the increase in troop strength in 2007.) A significant portion of that bill, the authors estimated, will consist of the direct costs of treatment and the indirect costs of lost economic potential of disabled veterans.
A report released yesterday by the National Academy of Sciences lends credence to that prediction. It revealed that claims for post-traumatic stress disorder filed by veterans increased by 80 per cent between 1999 and 2004, and payment costs increased 150 per cent, to $4.3-billion.
While most of the claims came from Vietnam vets (PTSD can come on late in life, as mental acuity begins to fade and old memories are harder to suppress) the report also notes that “personnel who served in the first Gulf War and in the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan,” are also starting to make claims.
“There likely will be many more claims from the latter group in the future, so how this issue is resolved now will eventually affect many active duty personnel,” the report concludes. The Bilmes/Stiglitz study estimates the direct costs of all disability payments at about $120-billion.
According to another school of economists, however, these costs are easily manageable, and the Bush administration was wise not to raise taxes in order to finance the war.
“Defence spending is still historically low,” observes Brian Riedl, a policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington. While the debt is growing, thanks to a budget deficit that last year came in at just under $250-billion, the overall debt-to-GDP ratio, at 37 per cent, is lower than it was in the 1970s, 80s or early 90s, he observes.
Raising taxes to pay for the war may simply have encouraged Congress to spend the money on other things, which is why “raising taxes never helps the economy,” Mr. Riedl said.
So, as with every aspect of this conflict, the economic costs of the war on terror are politically polarized, between sky-is-falling liberals and no-worries conservatives. Besides, the economic cost of a war often has little to do with its significance.
After all, in 2006 dollars, the War of Independence cost the 13 colonies less than two billion bucks.
The Cost of War
Combined, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are the second costliest camaign in US history, surpassed now only by the Second World War.
IN BILLIONS OF 2006 DOLLARS
• The American Revolution: $1.54
• War of 1812: $1.14
• Mexican War: $1.71
• Civil War*: $61.9
• Spanish American War: $9.3
• World War I: $346.67
• World War II: $3,235.96
• Korea: $409.09
• Vietnam: $536.23
• Gulf War: $90.24
• Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: $609
*Combined Union and Confederate armies
SOURCE: CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SERVICE
Experts Tally Iraq War’s Health Cost
Kavita Mishra / San Francisco Chronicle
SAN FRANCISCO (May 10, 2007) — Few saw it coming, but six years into combat in Iraq and Afghanistan, health care providers are overwhelmed by the demand of returning veterans suffering from mental health stress or traumatic brain injury.
Few understood the financial impact war would have on the Veterans Affairs medical system, projected by a Harvard economist’s study earlier this year to be as much as $600 billion.
But Linda Bilmes, a professor at the Kennedy School of Government and author of the study, said Wednesday that disability claims were slamming the system, with more than 25 percent of returning veterans filing. Roughly 180,000 claims needed to be addressed — on top of 400,000 pre-existing claims from veterans of past wars, many of whom are experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder.
At a teach-in at UCSF on Wednesday about the health effects of the Iraq war, Bilmes calculated that the loss of income and economic contribution from those veterans and the dead, in addition to the current and future expenses of the war, could cost the United States as much as $1 trillion to $2 trillion.
Because of the increasing use of body armor in this war, wounded soldiers mostly experience injuries to the head, neck and extremities. An estimated 24,000 soldiers have been injured since combat began in Afghanistan and Iraq.
But what health care providers say surprises them most is the ballooning number of soldiers experiencing closed head injuries — damage to the brain from movement within the skull — because of the widespread use of improvised explosive devices. Many soldiers have experienced delayed pain, memory lapses and other problems months after returning from the war.
About 1,700 U.S. soldiers have suffered traumatic brain injuries in combat so far, which are likely to cost the United States $20 billion over the next 20 years, Dr. William Schecter, chief of surgery at San Francisco General Hospital, told 300 UCSF faculty, staff and students who attended Wednesday’s symposium.
Veterans have already been seeking mental health help in droves. Of more than 100,000 U.S. veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan, 25 percent received one or more mental health diagnoses, the majority of them involving complex, multiple diagnoses that require more time and treatment, said Dr. Karen Seal, a physician at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center.
Health professionals worry about the war’s long-term impact in Iraq, noting that Iraqi children have the lowest rate of survival to age 5 in the world. One in 8 dies between the ages of 1 and 5, many as a result of combat or diseases, including treatable infections and cholera. Roughly 270,000 children have received no vaccinations since the start of the war, and 68 percent of the population cannot access safe drinking water.
Dr. Dahlia Wasfi, whose family lives in Iraq, argued that Iraqi women and children are victims of the war along with the military personnel, facing not only fear for their lives, but diminished living conditions and intrusion by soldiers searching their homes.
Medical personnel have known the truth all along, said Robert Scheer, the symposium’s keynote speaker and a USC communications professor. Scheer, who writes a column for The Chronicle, urged health care providers to speak up about the evidence of the damage the war has done to their patients.
The cases of Jessica Lynch and former NFL football player Pat Tillman, he said, were examples of delayed exposure of the actual circumstances in instances where providers probably knew the truth initially.
Kavita Mishra at email@example.com.
© SF Chronicle 2007
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