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Wednesday, March 19, 2008 05:43 am

The next surge

Maj. Tammy Duckworth dishes on war’s future cost

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Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs

As of this week, five years have passed since the U.S. launched the war on Iraq. Although analysts disagree on a precise figure, the total cost of the war will be between $1.4 trillion and $3 trillion. Illinois’ share, according to the National Priorities Project, an anti-war not-for-profit research group, will be around $40 billion. That’s money that could instead have been spent on community-development and social-services block grants, Section 8 housing vouchers, low-income home energy assistance, teachers’ salaries, and health care for the poor. It’s an amount that could have completely paid off Illinois’ massive unfunded pension obligation. There are certain to be more economic and social costs far into the future, even after the U.S. withdraws its permanent force from Iraq and Afghanistan. Maj. Tammy Duckworth, director of the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs, says that with the federal VA facing funding challenges states are picking up the slack in terms of meeting the needs of soldiers returning home from combat. Approximately 2,000 veterans of various conflicts have used a new state service, launched in February, that requires testing for traumatic brain injury of National Guard members returning from battle, Duckworth says. The program offers a free helpline for all veterans in Illinois who may be experiencing symptoms of posttraumatic-stress disorder. In Illinois, approximately 650 members of the state’s Army and Air National Guard are deployed in support of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Duckworth says that when veterans with PTSD aren’t treated, they sometimes self-medicate with alcohol or narcotics, leading to a downward spiral into a life of unemployment, homelessness, or trouble with the police. “Illinois taxpayers are going to have to pay for this care, whether we pay for it preventively so that they get the help that they need or after they get into trouble,” Duckworth says. “We’re going to be paying for these incredible men and women anyway; we might as well do it before they really start hurting.”
She adds, “We’re still paying for the cost of the Vietnam War because we are still taking care of Vietnam vets. “We’re now faced with two big populations of veterans that we will be caring for in this country for the next 30 to 50 years. We still have Vietnam vets and now we have Iraq and Afghanistan vets as well.”
For information on Illinois PTSD and TBI screening programs, go to www.illinoiswarrior.com.

Contact R.L. Nave at rnave@illinoistimes.com.
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