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Craven: Hidden Costs

09/06/11 8:55AM By Jay Craven
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Portrait by Todd R. Lockwood

Visit: Remembering 9/11

(HOST) As the 10th anniversary of the Terror Attacks on 9/11 approaches, commentator and Marlboro College teacher Jay Craven finds himself reflecting on the sometimes hidden costs of war.

(CRAVEN) One of the chief legacies of 9/11 has been continuous war and an expanded national security apparatus that has pre-occupied our anxious nation. More than two dozen Vermonters have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Whole communities have mourned the loss of very promising young people. Families have been disrupted, as loved ones have packed off to war as an unexpected part of their National Guard service. They have served with distinction.

More than 100 Vermonters have returned bearing the wounds of war. In total, more than 8,000 U.S. soldiers and contractors have been killed. 150,000 more have been wounded. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have been killed or wounded. The World Health Organization says that 70% of Iraqi children suffer from trauma.

We can only hope - and insist - that our government provide the best treatment available for returning veterans. Vermonter Matt Friedman has pioneered the recognition and treatment of soldiers experiencing Post Traumatic Stress. Friedman now leads the National Center for PTSD, based at the Vermont VA hospital. We're fortunate to have him here. This tenth anniversary should nevertheless prompt us to recognize and weigh the painful truth that for many of the people we send into battle, there will be lasting costs and life-altering consequences.

We also need to address other challenges of re-integration. Vermont's unemployment level is below the nation's 9.1% but the Congressional Joint Economic Committee says 16.8% of Vermont's post-9/11 vets are without jobs. Vets also suffer higher rates of homelessness, and many are able to find only low paying work.

When they left, National Guard members and reservists expected that they would fully re-integrate when they returned. This has not always happened. The new GI Bill provides important educational opportunities - but it apparently lacks coverage for important vocational training programs.

The financial costs of war will persist for years - and will complicate current efforts to trim government spending. Some of these costs are not openly recognized - as we've learned from Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and from a new study by Brown University's Watson Institute. They project the combined costs of our Iraq and Afghanistan wars at $6 trillion - when we include long-term treatment for wounded soldiers, war related foreign aid, homeland security spending, social costs to military families, and interest on money borrowed to pay for the wars.

I hope it's not too late, after spending so much on war, to still make vital investments in our own nation. During our next ten years we must turn the corner to address our country's pressing needs for affordable education, transportation, energy, health care, food, housing, culture, and recreation. I worry that today's financial anxieties will blind us to the lasting value of these essential community assets - and to our looming potential. And that we'll somehow overlook the human and material costs of war.

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