Friday Rant: US Department of Veterans Affairs Advances a Total Cost of War Calculation

The Pentagon, and military in general, are easy targets for criticism when it comes to deficient spend management -- fraught with poster child examples of no bid contracting and pork barrel political wastefulness. But when it comes to determining the total cost of military engagement, the human cost has been indeterminable and tragically ignored because of systemic failures to diagnose and treat its victims.

Warriors who fought in more ancient times were life-long -- and short -- professionals. They were largely segregated from the populations for whom they were aggressors and defenders. And their leaders knew all too well that these battle worn soldiers were not well suited to co-mingle with society at large. They were valuable assets with a clear mission to defeat the enemy at all cost. Modern warfare, if not the opposite, is quite different indeed. Women and men are trained and deployed far from their families to fight their country's battles and the fortunate one's return home to assume normal lives. At least that's the model.

I'm not a veteran. I am, however, extremely well acquainted through family and friends with the plight of returning soldiers who have suffered life altering injuries -- both physical and mental -- for which treatment has been sparse, inadequate or denied. Mental illness, its causes and ramifications, is still perceived by many, including its victims, to be an unspoken matter of personal weakness. Fortunately, this perception has slowly changed over the past 50 years and according to yesterday's New York Times, "The government is [finally] preparing to issue new rules that will make it substantially easier for veterans who have been found to have post-traumatic stress disorder to receive disability benefits, a change that could affect hundreds of thousands of veterans from the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Vietnam."

While the monetary cost of this new ruling -- "as much as $5 billion over several years according to Congressional analysts" -- is certainly unwelcome, the moral obligation for implementation is undeniable. And the cost/benefit to soldier's families and society at large, if properly executed, will be positive. The program will hopefully morph into a work-in-process that will also substantiate the need and economy for new and better methods of diagnosis and treatment beyond disability. It's a start.

Another, perhaps equally important, aspect of this new ruling is, put simply: Money talks. Decisions to go to war are always political, no matter how essential they may initially appear. And as such need to be perpetually evaluated before, during and following engagement. The total cost includes caring and providing for our military personnel over the same scope of time. Accepting this responsibility to our veterans and getting closer to knowing the real long term cost will hopefully foster more diligence and sober decision making going forward.

William Busch

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