Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Opinion

Column: True cost of war, one veteran at a time

War can be a series of cold calculations: the distance a bullet travels, the blast radius of a bomb, the number of minutes it takes to reach a soldier bleeding out on the battlefield. For wounded troops leaving the military, there is one more: the price paid for a broken body, a missing limb, a lost eye, a damaged brain.

The longest stretch of fighting in American history is producing disability claims at rates that surpass those of any of the country's previous wars.

Nearly half of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans are filing for these benefits when they leave the military — a flood of claims that has overwhelmed the VA and generated a backlog of 300,000 cases stuck in processing for more than 125 days. Some have languished for more than a year.

Yet, how do you solve a problem that has been called a "national embarrassment," "a mess," and yet another instance of Washington "bureaucracy run amok"? If the backlog is going to be fixed, the solution will come one soldier at a time.

Advances in combat medicine are keeping alive soldiers and Marines who would have bled out on the battlefield only a few years earlier. Some were surviving with three and even four missing limbs. In Afghanistan, the doctors had debated whether they should even be saving these troops. What kind of lives could they lead?

Today, these doctors ask different questions: How will these veterans cope when pressure sores force them back into their wheelchairs? What will happen to their battered bodies as they age? Will they grow depressed or despondent? When a disability case finally makes its way through the system, each veteran learns exactly how much their war was worth, and the VA backlog consists of one less soldier.

Greg Jaffe, Washington Post

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