As the Bush Administration considers changes to the 1990 Americans With Disabilities Act, the cost of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is coming into sharper focus.
In its economic analysis of the impact of the proposed rule changes, the Justice Department said action is particularly urgent in order to serve the “new generation of young men and women with disabilities” created by the Iraq war. The Justice Department oversees the administration and adherence to the ADA.
Dave Autry, national deputy director of communications for Disabled American Veterans, said he hadn’t heard anything about the proposed changes to the ADA. He said the Justice Department’s highlighting of veterans in their economic analysis was also new.
“The fact that they’re acknowledging disabled veterans is something that previously wasn’t done,” Autry said.
While Autry said there has not been a “big surge in membership” at Disabled American Veterans, there are “more [returning veterans] with more severe disabilities because of the increased survivability” afforded by medical advances.
According to the U.S. Census, the number of disabled veterans has increased by 25 percent since 2001.
The business community is largely resistant to the ADA changes, many of which require extensive remodeling to make public places more accessible to disabled people. Meanwhile, the cost to care for disabled veterans continues to rise.
In 2005, 2.6 million veterans received compensation for service related disabilities. As of last month, that number increased to 2.9 million.
While the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department expects the total number of veterans to decrease as soldiers who served in the Korean War and World War II die, the department estimates costs associated with caring for veterans will increase.
Last month, The Associated Press released findings from internal documents that reveal the government expects the cost of caring for disabled war veterans to double in the next 25 years from the current $29 billion to at least $59 billion.
Other costs associated with young veterans have been in the news lately. The new G.I. Bill passed both the Senate and House with wide margins, despite opposition from lawmakers who say it is too costly, both in terms of actual dollars and the harm it may do to the military retention rate. The bill proposes increased educational funding for veterans, which both presidential nominee Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) and President George W. Bush have said will lure soldiers away from the war front to attend college. The bill now requires the unlikely signature of the president to be enacted.
Also, a VA clinic coordinator recently testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans Affairs about an alleged attempt to reduce the number of post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) diagnoses and suppress the reporting of suicide cases. The testimony was part of an attempt by the committee to determine whether the VA has an institutional policy of avoiding treatment of mental health issues caused by conflict injuries.
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