A Toll of Two Wars

October 15, 2012

By: Travis Roberts

At the end of September this year, the War in Afghanistan arrived at a mournful milestone: the 2,000th death of a U.S service-member.[1]  The news passed with acknowledgment but not frenzy in our national dialogue.  The same could not be said of the 2,000 death in Iraq, which gripped headlines and spurred national policy debate in 2005. At that milestone, much focus was given to the toll that the war was exacting on our service-members. [2]   The plight of those affected by combat was a common theme in our national dialogue, and the need to address their suffering was widely discussed.  Unfortunately, this has faded over the years.  While Americans still readily support and respect their veterans, various factors have diminished the attention given to veteran issues in the years intervening these two milestones.  These distracting factors range from elections and prolonged economic difficulties to national debt and public war fatigue.  After all, the Afghanistan conflict has entered its second decade.  Yet service-members are still dying.  And those that survive are still returning with scars—physical and mental—that need care.  Sadly, these heroes are often met with bureaucratic hurdles and backlog before they can gain that care.  While these constraints are not new for veterans, the timing of shrinking public attention to veterans issues may be harmful.   The Department of Veterans Affairs is significantly backlogged on claims, and the problem is only expected to worsen as more veterans continue to return from combat.[3]  An informed and contributive public is essential to address this current and growing crisis.

Fortunately, policy-makers take the crisis seriously.  Recently, top officials from the White House met with the William & Mary Law School’s Lewis B. Puller Jr. Veterans Benefit Clinic to discuss these issues.  The White House officials displayed a commitment and concern to veterans that was inspiring.  They commanded an understanding of the structural difficulties that have created these backlogs, and they were open to suggestions for solutions.  Most importantly, they demonstrated how apolitical this issue is for them—and for all Americans.

But committed public officials, alone, cannot do the job.  The need is too great; the cost of failure is too high.  For a veteran that suffers from disorders such as PTSD and TBI, the effects of delayed care and compensation can be personally devastating.[4]  Tackling these issues will require much more than devoted public servants.  Indeed, the public—our businesses, our universities, our professionals, and our charities—must band together to address this national yet intensely individual crisis.  Now is not the time to take our eye off the ball.




[1] http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/OTUS/2000-dead-cost-war-afghanistan/story?id=17367728

[2] http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/26/international/middleeast/26deaths.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

[3] http://www.cnn.com/2012/09/29/health/delayed-veterans-benefits/index.html

[4] Id.

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