Of the troops who returned home from the Gulf War in the early 1990s, an estimated 21 percent filed claims seeking compensation for injuries suffered while on duty. That figure pales in comparison to the returnees from Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is a record-setting number. In an array of figures disclosed to the Associated Press, of the 1.6 million veterans coming back from those countries, an unprecedented 45 percent have made disability filings. And the backlog of claims throughout the nation is approaching one million, currently at about 864,000.
Further probing makes the statistics even more grim. Vietnam veterans are getting compensation for roughly four injuries, with vets of World War II and Korea only two. Meanwhile, those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan are averaging about eight to nine claims each, with a spike up to 11 to 14 most recently.
Tinnitus (noise or ringing in the ears), back pain and post-traumatic stress disorder are the most common maladies. PTSD is a big reason for the hike in compensation, because it is a condition that has only weighed heavily on the national consciousness in the last few years. The same could be said for concussions — or traumatic brain injuries — often suffered during explosions. As is the case with head injuries suffered by former National Football League players and other athletes, nailing down a long-term prognosis is quite difficult, even for the most skilled physician.
It is also likely that these head injuries (and PTSD) went largely unreported by previous veterans returning from service. Close to half the vets back from Iraq and Afghanistan have been treated for mental-health issues.
Regarding other numbers obtained by AP, more than 1,600 of these vets who have sought VA care have lost a limb, many others losing fingers and toes; at least 150 are blind, with thousands of others suffering impaired vision; more than 177,000 have loss of hearing, and more than 350,000 have tinnitus.
Plus, the number of disfigured returnees is in the thousands, with many possibly needing face transplants. Wounds to the face and jaw are commonplace during battle.
Not surprisingly, the cost of taking care of the veterans is mind-boggling. Harvard economist Linda Bilmes told the AP she estimates the health and disability price tag of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars to be anywhere from $600-900 billion.
Given that Afghanistan is winding down, that number could eventually be higher. Individual claim payments start at $127 per month up to about $2,800 a month, the latter for a full disability.
James G. Fausone is a Veterans disability lawyer and Veterans attorney with Legal Help for Veterans, PLLC. Learn more at http://www.legalhelpforveterans.com.