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News21: Care costs mount as injured veterans survive longer

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Jerral Hancock wakes up every night in Lancaster, Calif., around 1 a.m., dreaming he is trapped in a burning tank. He opens his eyes, but he can’t move, he can’t get out of bed and he can’t get a drink of water.

Hancock, 27, joined the Army in 2004 and went to Iraq, where he drove a tank. On Memorial Day 2007 — one month after the birth of his second child — Hancock drove over an improvised explosive device. Just 21, he lost his arm and the use of both legs, and now suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. The Department of Veterans Affairs pays him $10,000 every month for his disability, his caretakers, health care, medications and equipment for his new life.

No government agency has fully calculated the lifetime cost of health care for the large number of post-9/11 veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with life-lasting wounds. But it is certain to be high, with the veterans’ higher survival rates, longer tours of duty and multiple injuries, plus the anticipated cost to the VA of reducing the wait times for medical appointments and reaching veterans in rural areas.

“Medical costs peak decades later,” said Linda Bilmes, a professor in the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University and coauthor of “The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Cost of the Iraq Conflict.”

As veterans age, their injuries worsen over time, she said. The same long-term costs seen in previous wars are likely to be repeated to a much larger extent.

Post-9/11 veterans in 2012 cost the VA $2.8 billion of its $50.9 billion health budget for all of its annual costs, records show. And that number is expected to increase by $510 million in 2013, according to the VA budget. …

Review this in-depth package on wounded veterans in its entirety as well as others addressing veterans’ issues at backhome.news21.com