Afghanistan/Iraqi Memorial

The Iraq/Afghanistan Memorial is seen on Sunday, Sept. 30, 2018, at the Central Texas State Veterans Cemetery. The memorial serves as a reminder of the Central Texans who paid the ultimate price in the Iraq/Afghanistan wars.

When it comes to the cost of war, many Americans tend to think of money. Just how much of our tax dollars has the government spent so far in 17 years?

To those closest to the war, however, the cost is much, much greater: It is the cost in lives lost and lives forever changed by the terrible injuries sustained during combat.

There have been more than 2,400 U.S. military deaths in Afghanistan since combat operations began, and over 20,000 U.S. service members have been wounded in action, according to the State Department website.

At least 64 soldiers and airmen stationed at Fort Hood have been killed in Afghanistan, according to Herald records. Another soldier killed, although stationed at Fort Carson, Colorado, was a 2009 graduate of Killeen High School.

Annual U.S. casualties in Afghanistan peaked at 499 in 2010 and dropped sharply after January 2015, when Afghan forces assumed full responsibility for combat operations against the Taliban.

According to a story in The Balance published in August, the war in Afghanistan has cost more than $1 trillion over the past 17 years — in contrast with an estimate of $841 billion by Anthony Cordesman, the Arleigh A. Burke Chair in Strategy at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, as published by CNN.

However, over the next 40 years, the cost of veterans’ medical and disability payments will be more than $1 trillion, said Linda Bilmes, a senior lecturer in public finance at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, in The Balance story. “The cost of caring for war veterans typically peaks 30 to 40 years or more after a conflict.”

Due to improvements in battlefield medicine, more than 90 percent of U.S. troops wounded in Afghanistan survived, according to Lt. Gen. Nadja Y. West, surgeon general of the Army and commander of Army Medical Command.

Common combat injuries include second- and third-degree burns, broken bones, shrapnel wounds, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, paralysis, loss of sight and hearing, post-traumatic stress and limb loss, according to a study by Brown University in 2015. The true count of Americans injured or sickened in the war, however, is exponentially larger than the figures given on the official Department of Defense casualty website, which includes only those who were wounded in action.

Not included are those suffering what are categorized as “non-hostile injuries” and other medical problems arising in theater, such as heat stroke, suicide attempts, respiratory problems and vehicle crashes, the study found. Other problems are not diagnosed until well after returning home, such as toxic dust exposure and resulting respiratory, cardiac and neurological diseases possibly caused by exposure to open-air burn pits and other airborne toxins.

That does not include the cost in lives from suicide. The Department of Veterans Affairs released its latest report, VA National Suicide Data Report 2005–2015, in June. While the report showed that approximately 20 veterans, active-duty service members and members of the National Guard and Reserves committed suicide a day, they still cannot connect how many of them commit suicide due to the after-effects of combat such as post-traumatic stress.

That number may never be known.

In February, the Pentagon said that taxpayers are spending approximately $45 billion a year for operations in Afghanistan. Randall Schriver, DoD’s top official for Southwest Asia, said the total included $5 billion for Afghan forces and $13 billion for U.S. forces inside Afghanistan. The rest is primarily for logistical support and roughly $780 million for economic aid. | 254-501-7554

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