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Study: Number of wounded veterans could cripple VA

By O’Ryan Johnson
Sunday, January 7, 2007 - Updated: 11:15 AM EST

The Veterans Administration is in danger of collapsing under the burden of caring for the medical and psychological needs of returning U.S. forces from Iraq and Afghanistan if it does not receive a huge infusion of cash, a new Harvard study warns.

According to the report, the VA is already overwhelmed by the 200,000 veterans who have returned, and the agency will need between $350 billion and $700 billion more, reforms to its claim process, more staff and a sharper focus on mental-health issues if the agency is to care for those among the 1.4 million war veterans who may need treatment.

Congressman Martin D. Meehan (D-Lowell) agreed with the findings.

“When the history of the Iraq War is written, one of the great scandals may be the inability of the VA to care for veterans returning from combat,” said Meehan, a senior member of the Armed Services Committee.

“The strain on the VA is enormous,” Meehan added. “They did a study to see whether they’re equipped to care for the veterans from Iraq and they came to the conclusion that they’re no where near prepared to deal with these veterans.”

But VA spokesman Matt Burns sharply criticized the study, telling United Press International the findings are “misleading” and insisting that the report’s recommendations are already under way.

The study was published by Linda Bilmes, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and a former Clinton administration official.

Meehan points out that one of the bright points in the study is that the U.S. military is doing a better job of keeping troops alive. Bilmes calculates that there are 16 wounded troops for every dead serviceman, which she said is a higher rate than previous wars.

“There has been enormous progress made in terms of protecting soldiers and Marines,” Meehan said. “There are fewer dying. However the extremities are more difficult to protect. That’s why you see so many people injured coming back without arms and legs. Traditionally they would have come home in a coffin.”