2.5 million went to war in Iraq and Afghanistan; many returned with lifelong scars

Today is the 10th anniversary of when the United States went to war in Iraq.
Mar 19, 2013


Ten years after the United States went to war in Iraq, one of the most common numbers associated with the conflict is the tally of Americans killed: nearly 4,500. Add in the twin war in Afghanistan, and the tally goes to more than 6,600.

But for the men and women who served in America’s war on terrorism, the number of people affected is far larger. And for many of those people, the impact of the war will last a lifetime.

“I give presentations all over the country, and audiences are routinely shocked and surprised at the numbers,” said Paul Sullivan, a former senior analyst at the Department of Veterans Affairs who handles veteran outreach for Bergmann & Moore, a Washington-area law firm that specializes in disability issues. “Quite often they will challenge me.”

Since the U.S. went to war in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003, about 2.5 million members of the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, Coast Guard and related Reserve and National Guard units have been deployed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, according to Department of Defense data. Of those, more than a third were deployed more than once.

In fact, as of last year nearly 37,000 Americans had been deployed more than five times, among them 10,000 members of guard or Reserve units. Records also show that 400,000 service members have done three or more deployments.

“When I say 2.5 million people have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, jaws drop,” said Paul Rieckhoff, the chief executive officer of the advocacy group Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America. “I know which lines are going to get gasps, and that’s one of them. I don’t think they appreciate how many people have served, and particularly the number who have had repeated deployments. You’ve had an unprecedented demand on a small population. The general public has been incredibly isolated from those who served.”

For those who did serve, the effects of the war will linger for years, possibly a lifetime, according to a review of VA documents.

Already, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have produced more disability claims per veteran than other wars on the books, including Vietnam, Korea and World War II. While Vietnam extracted a far higher death toll — 58,000 died in that war — the total number of documented disabilities suffered by recent veterans is approaching that of the earlier conflict, according to VA documents.

As of last September, more than 1.6 million military members who’d been deployed in what’s classified as the global war on terror — in Iraq and Afghanistan, primarily — had transitioned to veteran status, VA records show. Of those, about 1 million were from active-duty service and about 675,000 from Reserve or guard deployments.

And of those, about 670,000 veterans have been awarded disability status connected to their military service. Another 100,000 have their initial claims pending, according to a November VA analysis.

Those numbers are constantly climbing — and might continue to rise for decades.

According to Linda Bilmes, a Harvard University professor who’s written extensively on the long-term costs of the wars, the ultimate bill for war costs comes due many decades later. As veterans age, their health deteriorates and their disabilities — which might have been manageable early in life — worsen.

In a paper released Thursday, Bilmes notes that the peak year for paying disability compensation to World War I veterans was 1969; the largest expenditures for World War II veterans were in the 1980s.

Today’s veterans are far more likely to put in for benefits than their fathers’ and grandfathers’ generations were. Beyond that, far more soldiers in this all-volunteer military have been back for two, three, four or five tours, and the long-term impact on hearing and from traumatic brain injuries caused by improvised bombs will be felt for years.

The VA’s disability benefits are awarded to veterans who suffer physical or mental injuries during their military service. They range from $129 a month to $2,816 a month. Separate from the disability payments, veterans have access to the VA’s health system, and so far more than 860,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans have taken advantage of it.

Among the most pressing — and potentially costly — disabilities is post-traumatic stress disorder, a serious mental ailment that can have a dramatic, ongoing impact on a veteran’s life. As of last year, the VA’s health system had seen more than 270,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans for potential PTSD, and the agency’s disability system had awarded PTSD benefits to more than 150,000 of them, according to VA reports.

In her paper, Bilmes says the cost of providing Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with disability and medical care and related services will approach $1 trillion; it might top that if the number and complexity of claims continue to exceed estimates.

“Many Americas don’t understand the full cost of war,” said Sen. Bernard Sanders, an independent from Vermont who chairs the Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “But we have a moral obligation to take care of every veteran who has been injured in war. And when we do that, that is going to be a very, very expensive proposition.”


By Chris Adams - McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

©2013 McClatchy Washington Bureau

Visit the McClatchy Washington Bureau at www.mcclatchydc.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services



Really? Noone complaining about the money being spent on Veterans? Heck that is ONLY the tip of the iceberg. There are MANY that do not even bother to deal with the VA. Many that are turned away for this reason or that. These men/women signed the line, did a duty that was asked of them and now many are NOT getting the attention then need. These veterans should be given THE same care and attention that Senators/Congressmen get. Too many are forgotten and lost.


Even if they could just get the same care/help that illegal aliens and criminals get! we spend millions(possibly billions) on healthcare for all these people that broke the law and had no insurance before they went in, and now they have free healthcare that law abiding people who HAVE to buy their own insurance pay for!

jack langhals

The tip of the berg is the 2.2 trillion dollars and 190,000 lives lost.Now we are going to get involved in Africa.No Korea is rattling her sabres and with Iran and it's nuclear program we are going to cut our missiles to please Russia.How stupid can we get.I have some real good ideas what we can do for congress.


You need professional help. Seriously. Go get help.


Actually he's pretty spot-on.

Cliff Cannon

@ SMF1 : Got to agree with you & Mr. Langhals here. Especially,since,I've got a son & son-in-law steaming towards the Mediterrean sea as part of a Marine Expeditionary force as I write.

Their jobs are to go in, where ever a "hot spot" breaks out. Which,one must ask: Where isn't there a 'hot-spot' in the middle east ? Further,I ask; How is that America's business ?

I truly,wish politicians from all those warring countrys sent their ownselves into war. Then see how many war's there would not be. Or perhaps,Churchill said it best after W.W.2 " Let the mothers of the world decide where the next war should be fought "


I like that quote

"A war is only justified if you are willing to send your own son. If you cant send your own son then how can you send some body elses?" Gov. Jesse Ventura


Right on :))


actually betrump, you need help because you fail to see whats going on with your liberal blinders. Now thats sad.


The world is no longer black and white........The entire spectrum is grey, get used to it!

Cliff Cannon

@ Mr.Langhals : Did you read the headline story about S.Korea's outages today ? Sure don't sound like an 'accident',does it ? Wonder,when the North Koreans---who are so hungry--- they have allegedly resorted to cannibalism in many cases. Will start the next " Korean war " ?


We already had troops in Africa. We have troops in over 200 countries. Thats the only reason our dollar hasnt colapsed. It used to be back by gold now it is backed by our military.


I think all THOSE who were Profiters in the Iraq and Afghanistan WARS, should foot the BILL, not the public.

hit the road jack

You are exactly right! take the oil money from Iraq for a couple month's and put into a fund for vets only(and family members) the govt. has balls asking the public to carry the load after their mamed or killed.


time seems to get away from us. let us not forget the thousands of vietnam vets who still need assistance!!!

Cliff Cannon

" Disabled American Veterans " P.O. box 14301 Cincinnati,Ohio 45250-0301 is one way to send contributions to help those brave veterans who gave so much---- no matter,what I/we/you think of American policys.

P.S. As I understand it,they have many branches. This is just the one,I am connected to.


The majority of the previous comments are actually some of more astute I've seen in a long time. Thought I was the only one who had common sense!

Brock Lee

vets need more respect


My father was a WWII vet and passed away when I was 12. I was able to utilize a War Orphans Scholarship to attend any state college which paid the tuition. I understand this scholarship is significantly different today. The vets and spouses should be helped in ways similar to this scholarship. They make the sacrifice both physically and mentally and once you sign on the line, you are sworn to serve, regardless of the morality of the action. There are many opinions both ways for every war, but the bottom line is that the vets should have benefits and be treated with respect and honor.