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Friday, April 11, 2008

On the cost of the Gulf War (Not the current one)

I was amazed to hear a report that stated that the US is paying about $12 billion (that's a thousand million) per month for veterans who became disabled because of the Gulf War, in which Iraq was driven back from Kuwait, by a broad coalition of military from several nations. (This was not the current Gulf War.) So I checked, and found this report, by CNN, that states that, indeed, in January 2003, there were 161,000 veterans receiving disability benefits because of their service in this war. (The report is not on this subject, but the statistic is included.)

A report says that we are paying 4.3 billion a year on personnel disabled in the first Gulf War, and cites the Veterans Benefit Administration as its source.

PRI's The World interviewed (scroll down to "Three trillion dollar war") Joseph Stiglitz, an economist, and he said that the current Iraq war will cost three trillion dollars, based, in large part, on estimates based on that same 4.3 billion a year for the first Gulf War, which, he said, was being spent on 40% of the veterans of that war, those who were disabled. These funds are not generally included in costs of the current war, but in costs of caring for veterans.

The Wikipedia article on the Gulf War states that, as of 2000, there were 183,000 veterans who were suffering from a disability, and that this was one-quarter of the total number of troops. I'm not sure why there is a discrepancy in both the number and the fraction disabled, but, unless both sources are seriously false, there are a lot more people who were disabled from the Gulf War than I had supposed, and the cost must be significant. If there are "only" 150,000 such (lower than either report gives) and the cost of treating each one, including medical personnel, record-keeping, prosthetics, physical therapy, surgery, counseling, facilities, medicine, disability support, etc., is only $2000 per month per person (which must be a low estimate) the cost would be $300 million per month, or 3.6 billion a year.

The current war may or may not have been justified. Continuing it may or may not be justified. But no one, including even politicians who oppose this war, seems to be talking about this aspect of the tremendous monetary cost. (And, of course, we don't seem to be giving our veterans very good care, in some instances. Besides which, none of this says anything about costs for caring for Iraqi civilians, or insurgents, or the Iraqi army.)

Perhaps others realized how many veterans can expect to be disabled, but I had no idea that the projected percentage was so high. War may be necessary some times, but it is a terrible event, at best.

Thanks for reading.


Rob Rumfelt said...

Staggering numbers, indeed. And sobering. But we need to resist the temptation to make decisions based solely on cost factors. That leads to utilitarianism, which is a horrifying prospect when followed to its extremes.

War is a terrible event, no doubt. No one knows that better than the soldiers who fight. But they also understand its value and purpose. I cede the national and international stages to God, citing Romans 13:1-2.

Of course, everything's open to interpretation.


Martin LaBar said...

You are right, of course.