The country’s newest veterans are filing for disability benefits at a historic rate, claiming to be the most medically and mentally troubled generation of former troops the nation has ever seen.
That is more than double the estimate of 21 percent who filed such claims after the Gulf War in the early 1990s, top government officials told The Associated Press.
Government officials and some veterans' advocates say that veterans who might have been able to work with certain disabilities may be more inclined to seek benefits now because they lost jobs or can't find any.
According the New York Post, under legislation signed last year by President Obama, businesses that hire veterans and provide education and training veterans can receive tax credits.
But advocates say that nearly one in five returning service people have been unable to find work.
“The system is broken,” Paul Rieckhoff, executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, said yesterday on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
“It is not acceptable,” Sen. Patty Murray, chairman of the Veterans Affairs Committee, told CNN. “It doesn’t meet the guidelines of the VA. It doesn’t meet what the country expects.”
What's more, these new veterans have invisible wounds of war.
The AP says more of the new veterans are women, accounting for 12 percent of those who have sought care through the VA. Women also served in greater numbers in these wars than in the past. Some female veterans are claiming PTSD due to military sexual trauma - a new challenge from a disability rating standpoint, military officials say.
Also more than 400,000 of these new veterans have been treated by the VA for a mental health problem, most commonly, PTSD.
Barry Jesinoski, executive director of Disabled American Veterans, told the AP he does believe these veterans have more mental problems due to multiple deployments.
"You just can't keep sending people into war five, six or seven times and expect that they're going to come home just fine," he said.
For taxpayers, the ordeal is just beginning. With any war, the cost of caring for veterans rises for several decades and peaks 30 to 40 years later, when diseases of aging are more common, said Harvard economist Linda Bilmes. She estimates the health care and disability costs of the recent wars at $600 billion to $900 billion.
"This is a huge number and there's no money set aside," she said. "Unless we take steps now into some kind of fund that will grow over time, it's very plausible many people will feel we can't afford these benefits we overpromised."
"How would that play to these veterans, who all volunteered and now expect the government to keep its end of the bargain?" she asks.