Veterans and the Cost of War

Since the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, National Priorities Project has tracked the costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. We have focused on the tax dollars expended related to the conduct of these wars, and offered comparisons to funding for other government programs to demonstrate the opportunity costs of these expenditures.

But wars are not ultimately about dollars, they are about people. As my colleague Mattea Kramer wrote recently, there are good reasons for keeping funding for veterans programs separate from the Pentagon's budget. But it is also true that the support our veterans need is a direct result of their service to our country.


For fiscal year 2013 the White House has proposed spending $138 billion on veterans programs. Of this roughly $55 billion is for healthcare. And these costs, particularly healthcare, are growing and will continue to do so. According to 2010 report by the Congressional Budget Office (CBO), the costs of providing health care services to all veterans seeking treatment through the Veterans Administration (VA) will grow from 45 to 75 percent between 2010 and 2020.

CBO also notes that this cost growth will be more about serving the current pool of veterans in the VA system rather than new enrollees from our recent conflicts, who tend to be younger and healthier. So it is reasonable to assume that even greater VA cost growth will occur in the coming years.

NPP will continue to report the costs of U.S. wars. We will track funding for the Pentagon as stewards of our government’s tax dollars. And we will remember that while nations go to war, people come home.