By Teresa Welsh |
The end of the war in Iraq is eight years, nine months too late and counting. Long after our last tanks, troops, State Department personnel, and military contractors leave Iraq, the costs of this war of choice will continue to be felt for decades.
The costs of the war are devastating: 4,421 dead American volunteer troops with 31,921 more wounded, including 986 amputees. Nearly 169,000 veterans are graded as "60 percent disabled" or higher by the Department of Veterans Affairs. One in five veterans suffers from post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or depression, depriving sufferers of sleep, stability, careers, families, and sometimes, lives. There are hundreds of thousands of cases of traumatic brain injury.
The effects of each of these deaths and injuries ripple in every direction. Financial strain from loss of a breadwinner or heightened care-giving needs can rip families apart. PTSD and accompanying lack of sleep make it hard to get and keep a job. According to the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder, children with an active-duty parent on long-term deployment are more likely to be diagnosed with a mental health problem than children whose parents were not deployed. Today, 20 percent of the homeless population consists of veterans. Studies have demonstrated that women who served in the military are more likely than their non-serving counterparts to experience homelessness in their lifetimes. In April of last year, the VA received a record 14,000 calls in a single month to its suicide prevention hotline. The divorce rate among military families has increased. Thousands of troops have returned with life-changing injuries. Still other health effects will not manifest for years; we now know that veterans of the first Gulf War are getting Lou Gehrig's disease at twice the rate of their non-deployed peers.
Over 1 million innocent Iraqis died in the war, according to an acclaimed peer-reviewed study in the Lancet.
The Congressional Research Service estimates that the Iraq War has cost the United States $806 billion so far. Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes put that number closer to $5 trillion, using accounting that includes veterans' care. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Bush tax cuts, and the recession are the primary reasons our country's debt is so high. That debt has been used as an excuse to attack funding for Medicare, Social Security, unemployment insurance, basic food assistance for low-income expecting mothers, job training programs, heating assistance for low-income seniors, education, and, yes, veterans benefits.
The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation estimates that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan cost the average American family of four almost $13,000 in 2010 alone. In my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, taxpayers have contributed $518.4 million to the Department of Defense in this fiscal year alone, according to the National Priorities Project. That could pay the salaries for 7,654 elementary school teachers or 9,792 firefighters for one year, or pay for 64,317 military veterans receiving medical care for one year in Cleveland.
The war was supposed to last only a few months. Nearly nine years later, it still isn't over, as weapons are now wielded by a different agency and private contractors. Because there has been no accountability for the lies that killed millions, it is now easier than ever for America to start wars for spurious reasons. The war in Iraq should never have happened.
About Dennis Kucinich U.S. Representative, Ohio's 10th District
Daniel J. Gallington Senior Policy and Program Adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute