Rise In Injured Troops Raises Questions About Medical Care Funding

March 7th, 2008  
Team Infidel

Topic: Rise In Injured Troops Raises Questions About Medical Care Funding

San Diego Union-Tribune
March 7, 2008 Critics say VA hasn't budgeted enough
By Bradley Brooks, Associated Press
BAGHDAD – The number of wounded U.S. troops has become a hallmark of the nearly five-year-old Iraq war, pointing to both the use of roadside bombs as the extremists' weapon of choice and advances in battlefield medicine to save lives.
About 15 service members are wounded for every fatality, compared with 2.6 per death in Vietnam and 2.8 in Korea.
But with those saved lives comes a financial price – one veterans groups and others claim the government is unwilling to pay.
Those critics also say that the tens of thousands of troops wounded in Iraq are part of a political numbers game, one they say undermines the medical system meant to care for them.
The most frequently cited figure is the 29,320 Americans wounded in action in Iraq as of yesterday. But there have been 31,325 others treated for noncombat injuries and illness as of Saturday.
“The Pentagon keeps two sets of books,” said Linda Bilmes, a professor at Harvard and an expert on budgeting and public finance whose newly published book, “The Three Trillion Dollar War,” was co-authored with Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz.
“It is important to understand the full number of casualties because the U.S. government is responsible for paying disability compensation and medical care for all our troops, regardless of how they were injured,” Bilmes said.
The Department of Veterans Affairs predicts it will treat 330,000 veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan next year – a 14 percent increase over the 2008 estimate of 263,000 – at a cost of nearly $1.3 billion.
For the 2009 budget, the White House requested $93.7 billion for the VA, including $41.2 billion for medical care for all veterans – not just those from Iraq and Afghanistan. That's an increase of $2.3 billion over the current budget.
But critics say that is not enough for a system that has a backlog of about 400,000 pending medical claims and complaints, especially in mental health care.
The VA “will not request enough resources to care for the troops – and in fact this is precisely what has happened in the past three years,” said Bilmes.
Cynthia Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, rejected accusations that the government is trying to hide or obscure the number of wounded troops by placing the total in two categories on its Web sites.
“Both of the Web sites have equal importance. They are just counting different things,” Smith said. “Neither is more prominent than the other.”
James Peake, secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs, said funding for VA medical care requested for next year is “more than twice what it was seven years ago” before operations in Afghanistan started.
But Bilmes said the VA is hoping to offset some of the costs through increased fees and co-payments – putting more of the burden for health care costs back on veterans.
“That is the thing that sticks in the gullet, the fact they're hoping to raise $2 (billion) or $3 billion through their fees, which is what we spend in Iraq and Afghanistan in about three days,” she said.
“For three days of fighting, we could not charge these vets a higher co-payment,” Bilmes said.
Paul Sullivan, executive director of Veterans for Common Sense, an advocacy group based in Washington, said the VA's budget request for 2009 also does not pay adequate attention to chronic problems facing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, such as drug and alcohol addictions.

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