As the nation prepares to observe another Veterans Day and give thanks to all those who have served and protected the country through their military service, it is appropriate to remember that thanks alone is not enough. The United States has a moral obligation to care for those who have heeded the call. The price of that care will grow dramatically, but it must forever remain a priority. It is a responsibility the nation cannot shirk to reduce deficits or avoid tax increases.
Earlier this year the Associated Press reported that 45 percent of the 1.6 million veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are seeking compensation for service-related injuries, more than double the 21 percent of veterans who filed such claims after the first Gulf War. And these veterans are reporting more ailments than their counterparts in prior wars.
This is due in part because of better treatment for battlefield wounds that has allowed soldiers to survive injuries that would have proved fatal in past wars. Mental health and emotional injuries that were not considered as part of veterans' care in the past are now recognized as vitally important to treat, chiefly Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), but also brain injuries.
And to its credit, the Department of Veterans Affairs is doing a better job of outreach to our veterans to let them know about the care to which they are entitled.
But the system is buckling under this demand. More than 560,000 veterans have delayed disabilities claims of 125 days or more. Harvard University economist Linda Blimes' detailed analysis concluded that disability costs associated with the two recent wars will reach between $600 billion to $900 billion. That money has not been budgeted.
What ever the price, it must be paid. Our veterans were there for us and the nation must be there for them.