The cost of caring for injured soldiers

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More than 8 years after going to war in Afghanistan and 7 years of war in Iraq, the number of injured veterans from these conflicts continues to grow. The World's Katy Clark tells us about the recommendations of a recent study that says the VA doesn't know what the long-term costs of caring for the veterans will likely be.

MARCO WERMAN: No one really knows what the eventual price tag will be for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but we do know that a big chunk of that money will go toward the long term care of the wars' veterans. The World's Katy Clark has more on that.

KATY CLARK: One bit of good news to come out of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan is that more servicemen and women are surviving horrific injuries that in the past would have killed them. But with an estimated 1.9 million veterans of these wars, the Veterans Administration faces an enormous case load and financial burden, and it's one that will only grow over time.

RYAN EDWARDS: There's a peak in disability benefit need after about 30 years and we think probably the health spending will look similar to that.

CLARK: Ryan Edwards is an assistant professor of Economics at the City University of New York. He worked on a report out this week from the Institute of Medicine. It offers suggestions as to how the military as a whole could better care for returning servicemen and women. He's encouraging the VA to do a cost estimate about the future care needs as a good place to start.

EDWARDS: They're pretty difficult to do because there are a lot of unknown parameters. It isn't rocket science, but they need to be instructed and staffed to do it.

CLARK: The report was done at the request of Congress and it raises several questions for both the VA and the Pentagon including how many mental health care providers they need and what's the best way to treat traumatic brain injury over the long term. The study also suggests that it might be a good idea to give service members time to decompress before returning home.

TIM MCLOUGHLIN: I think decompression would be a very good idea. I can tell you that I left Kuwait May 15, 2003 and I was in Sydney, Australia July 4, 2003. Just let off the ship and that's probably a bad idea.

CLARK: Tim McLoughlin left the Marine Corps in September 2006. He's now an attorney in the Boston area. He was happy to hear that people are looking at the long term care concerns of veterans. But he was doubtful when asked if he thought anyone in a position of power would consider these costs before deciding to go to war.

MCLOUGHLIN: It's probably advisable in the sense that we would always want to take care of our young men and women when they return from war zones. But in terms of reality, I don't think that 40 years away costs of veterans' rehabilitative services factor into national security. And I don't think it should.

CLARK: Retired Marine Andrew Kiner lost both of legs while serving in Iraq in 2006. He too welcomes the attention being placed now on veterans' health issues. But Kiner doesn't like to think of it in terms of dollars and cents.

ANDREW KINER: I like to say wow we're really, for the first time ever, trying to take a serious stab at PTSD and at mental health and psychological health and really trying to figure out what it is that's happening with folks when they go overseas and to be reintegrated into their society. So that's going to cost some money, but we're also really, really breaking some ground on addressing those issues.

CLARK: The VA declined to speak with The World for this story, but Veterans Administration officials have reportedly agreed that some long term financial projections are possible. For The World, this is Katy Clark.