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Lawmakers on Capitol Hill heard yesterday from Linda Bilmes, Kennedy School lecturer in public policy, whose research on Iraq war costs has sparked new discussions about war policy in Washington and across the country.
Bilmes’ most recent study focuses on the costs of treating returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She has concluded that the escalating number of war related health care claims is straining the capacities and budgets of the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“To date, over 1.4 million US servicemen have been deployed to operations in and around Iraq and Afghanistan. The servicemen who have been officially wounded in combat are a small percentage of the veterans who will be using the veteran’s administration system,” she told the House Veterans Affairs Committee’s subcommittee on disability assistance and memorial claims. “Disability compensation is a significant long-term entitlement cost that will continue for at least the next forty years.”
Bilmes estimated those long-term costs as $70-150 billion in today’s dollars.
Bilmes also remarked on the “enormous strain” that backlogged health claims are imposing on the 9,000 claims specialists at the Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA).
“They must rate the claims, establish claims files, authorize payments, conduct in-person and telephone interviews, process appeals and generate various notification documents through the process. The VBA has antiquated IT systems that make it difficult for the claims specialists to do their job efficiently.” she stated. “For all these reasons I believe that the agency as currently structured is simply not capable of settling the current and projected volume of claims in a timely manner.”
In her testimony, Bilmes recommended that the VBA begin fast-tracking all claims benefits and conduct audits later; all soldiers should receive mandatory full medical examinations upon their return from duty; the VBA should shift its focus from claims processing to rehabilitation of veterans; and Congress should enact legislation to improve data collection and monitoring of veterans’ disability claims.
See Bilmes’ recent report, "Soldiers Returning from Iraq and Afghanistan: The Long-term Costs of Providing Veterans Medical Care and Disability Benefits" on the Kennedy School’s Faculty Research Working Paper Series web site.
Linda Bilmes, Kennedy School lecturer in public policy, testifies before House subcommittee.