Cost of war lingers long after last shots fired

The US now spends $140 billion a year compensating war veterans, a figure that is expected to rise dramatically.

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The human cost of war — any war — is enormous. People are killed and wounded. Lives are forever changed.

And the financial costs to U.S. taxpayers for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are staggering.

The U.S. is now pouring $10 billion a month into the war in Afghanistan even as plans are being made to get American forces out of that country by 2014.

Since 2001, the U.S. has spent more than $1.4 trillion waging war. More than $800 billion has been spent in Iraq and more than $600 billion in Afghanistan.

But even when U.S. troops have exited both wars zones, the cost in terms of lives and dollars will continue to be high into the 22nd century.

An Associated Press analysis of federal payment records found that the government is still making monthly payments to relatives of Civil War veterans — albeit only two — 148 years after the conflict ended.

The AP also found more than $40 billion a year is now being spent to compensate veterans and survivors from the Spanish-American War from 1898, World War I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the two Iraq campaigns and the Afghanistan conflict.

Future costs for war compensation are expected to rise dramatically in the future. More troops are surviving serious battlefield injuries because of improvements in combat medicine and technology.

Paying disability benefits for wounded warriors — physical and mental — as they age will grow higher and higher. Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are filing for disabilities at historic rates, with about 45 percent of those returning from the Mideast war zones seeking compensation for injuries.

These expenses have to be considered as Congress looks to reduce federal spending in the necessary effort to reduce the nation’s debt.

Funding veterans compensation and care must be a top priority. Yet, figuring how future compensation will be allocated and who will be eligible is likely to spark debate in Congress — and the American people.

For now, the only thing that’s clear is this nation has an obligation to provide fair compensation to those who went to war on our behalf. And we have to get out of Afghanistan sooner rather than later.

In addition, let’s hope the ongoing, escalating expenses will be considered when sending soldiers into harm’s way. The toll of war goes beyond the loss of lives.

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