The US spends more than the next 9 countries combined when it comes to defence. What is probably lost on many Americans is the spiraling cost of funding the veterans who served. The US is forecast in 2020 to spend almost as much on the Dept of Veterans Affairs (VA) as China does on military spending. The direct cost of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has driven the indirect costs of treating those who served almost 5-fold since the war began. US politicians have passed increase after increase. Have these increases been thought of in context of the trend? Or do annual increases just get signed off as a reflex action?
If we put the VA budget next to the defence budget, the former has grown from 14.8% of the latter to around 29% between 2000 and 2020. The number of veterans receiving disability compensation has grown 2 million in 2000 to 4.3 million in 2016. A total of 7.2 million veterans are actively seeking services or payments from the VA, up from 5.5 million in 2000.
Spending per veteran by priority group also reveals sharply higher costs. This is not an exhaustive list of priorities, but the main 7.
• Veterans with VA-rated service-connected disabilities 50% or more disabling
• Veterans determined by VA to be unemployable due to service-connected conditions.
• Veterans with VA-rated service-connected disabilities 30% or 40% disabling
• Veterans who are Former Prisoners of War (POWs)
• Veterans awarded a Purple Heart medal
• Veterans whose discharge was for a disability that was incurred or aggravated in the line of duty
• Veterans with VA-rated service-connected disabilities 10% or 20% disabling
• Veterans awarded special eligibility classification under Title 38, U.S.C., § 1151, “benefits for individuals disabled by treatment or vocational rehabilitation”
• Veterans awarded the Medal Of Honor (MOH)
• Veterans who are receiving aid and attendance or housebound benefits from VA
• Veterans who have been determined by VA to be catastrophically disabled
• Non service-connected Veterans and non-compensable service-connected Veterans rated 0% disabled by VA with annual income below the VA’s and geographically (based on your resident zip code) adjusted income limits
• Veterans receiving VA pension benefits
• Veterans eligible for Medicaid programs
• Compensable 0% service-connected Veterans.
• Veterans exposed to ionizing radiation during atmospheric testing or during the occupation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
• Project 112/SHAD participants.
• Veterans who served in the Republic of Vietnam between January 9, 1962, and May 7, 1975.
• Veterans of the Persian Gulf War who served between August 2, 1990, and November 11, 1998.
• Veterans who served on active duty at Camp Lejeune for at least 30 days between August 1, 1953, and December 31, 1987.
• Currently enrolled Veterans and new enrollees who served in a theater of combat operations after November 11, 1998 and those who were discharged from active duty on or after January 28, 2003, are eligible for the enhanced benefits for five years post discharge.
• Veterans with gross household income below the geographically-adjusted income limits for their resident location and who agree to pay copays.
Countries have an obligation to look after the troops that sustain injury, physical, mental or otherwise. The question is whether politicians are cottoning on to the mounting relative increase in healing the veteran community to the spending on weapons of war?
There are 19.6 million veterans in the US. By 2045 this is expected to dip below 12 million. With 2.1 million serving active duty military personnel and reserves, the overall costs of healing may not come down anytime soon.
What it does say is that there is a massive need to work out how to reduce the costs to the VA without impeding improving healthcare and benefits for veterans.