Burden of War Growing

A new survey conducted by the Pew Research Center reveals serious long-term implications for veterans’ health care and benefits, at a time when budget cuts already put these programs under heavy scrutiny. The study shows a continuing trend in the types of servicerelated injuries and illnesses that have already made 1.3 million of the 2.3 million Iraq and Afghanistan veterans eligible for VA health care.

“As the population of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans eligible for VA health care services grows, so does the cost for their continued health care,” said Washington Headquarters Executive Director Barry Jesinoski. He noted that in July, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the Veterans Health Administration cost to treat those enrolled veterans in 2020 could range from $5.5 billion to $8.4 billion—as compared to $1.9 billion in 2010.

Nearly half of the 4,000 study participants were military veterans, with 712 having served in the post- 9/11 military. Among those 712, 1 in 6, reported sustaining a serious injury during service, the majority considered combat-related, and many reported lasting psychological and emotional effects of service. Nearly 4 in 10 (37 percent) believe they have suffered from post-traumatic stress (PTS), while 16 percent of those who served prior to 9/11 reported experiencing PTS. Not surprisingly, numbers were higher among post- 9/11 veterans who served in combat. Nearly half (49 percent) of combat veterans reported suffering from PTS, and as many as 3 in 4 who had emotionally distressing military experiences claimed to still have flashbacks or nightmares. The survey also shows that 47 percent of post-9/11 veterans and 43 percent of pre-9/11 veterans knew and served with someone who was killed while in service. In addition, 44 percent of veterans from the current wars report difficulties returning to civilian life, compared to 25 percent of those who left the service prior to 9/11.

The survey reveals widely differing perceptions between veterans and the general public on the tolls of serving in the military during wartime. In a society where only one-half of 1 percent of the population has served on active duty during the past decade, it’s not surprising that most Americans cannot relate to the hardships and sacrifices of military service—84 percent of veterans and 71 percent of civilians surveyed agreed the general public does not understand these problems. What is surprising, however, is that 83 percent of civilians acknowledged the sacrifices military families have had to make since the 9/11 attacks, but only 26 percent described the lop-sided burden sharing as “unfair.” Rather, 7 in 10 civilians surveyed said these hardships are “just part of being in the military.”

“The disparity between the public perception and the reality of military life is growing and, frankly, alarming,” said Jesinoski. “This generation of service members, their families and caregivers will need the support of lawmakers and fellow citizens to protect the benefits they have earned.” The survey shows a continued need for funding mental health care services and expanded research into those illnesses and injuries specific to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention greater efforts to reintegrate veterans into society once they have fulfilled their voluntary commitments to our nation’s defense. “For the 90 percent of American citizens who have never served a day in uniform, it should be both an honor and an obligation to provide unfailing and unflinching support for the brave Americans who served so that others wouldn’t have to,” Jesinoski said.

Impact of military injuries