When calculating the price of war, our nation's leaders must take a different approach and include the costs of ensuring that our veterans receive the services they need to become full participants in society upon their return.
This means health care, mental health services, education and a job.
The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq illustrate our failure to see the complete picture. The United States has spent $2 trillion in military operations there. But the complete price tag — including health care and disability compensation — will be another $2 trillion to $4 trillion, according to research by the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
This is in addition to the nearly 5,300 military deaths and 51,000 wounded.
Despite growth in the Department of Veterans Affairs budget since 2001, veterans continue to go without vital services, and the results are devastating. Post 9/11 veterans are committing an average of 22 suicides a day, according to Veterans Affairs estimates for 2009 to 2011.
"But while older veterans saw a slight decrease in suicides, male veterans under 30 saw a 44% increase in the rate of suicides," the Stars and Stripes reported in January.
In addition, the unemployment rate for post-9/11 veterans is around 10%, compared to slightly above 7% for non-vets. Finally, more than 400,000 veterans await their disability benefits in a backlogged VA system, according to Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
Last week, former President George W. Bush announced that his Military Service initiative would launch a public-private effort to help veterans succeed into civilian life. The collaboration is trying to destigmatize Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, help GI Bill recipients graduate from college and encourage the hiring of veterans.
Bush said that employers must be more flexible and see the positive qualities that veterans have instead of only assessing their job skills: "You don't see many job postings that say 'Wanted: experience hunting insurgents and terrorists, willing to risk their lives for co-workers.' What's a veteran supposed to put down? 'My last office was a Humvee?' "
America is making strides in helping the men and women who fought for our freedom, but it must do more — including adequately funding federal budgets so that veterans get the expedited assistance they deserve.
The Veterans Crisis Hotline is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week, at (800) 273-8255, press 1.