Cost of Iraq war: 300,000 brain damaged Americans

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December 9, 2008 @ 1:39 UTC

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Health Care, War & Conflict

UPDATEDIt seems the war in Iraq has left 0.1% of the US population with brain damage. This report in the LA Times is simply staggering:

A recent Rand Corp. report . . . estimated that 19% of the troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, or more than 300,000 people, have come back with traumatic brain injuries. It estimated that treatments for such injuries and the loss in productivity have cost the nation, conservatively, about $554 million.

Something is screwed up about the numbers in this article. Just divide 300,000 people by $600,000,000. We're expected to believe these injuries will only cost the US economy $2,000 per brain-injured American? That's not a “conservative” estimate, that's a ludicrously conservative one.

I would venture to say RAND's cost estimates are off by a multiple of at least 100 — probably much more.

UPDATE: I have been corresponding with a reader about the figures in the RAND study. The reader wrote:

There's something wrong with the numbers in the Brain Damage story. Assuming that 19% of the US troop returning from Iraq is about 300,000 people would lead to the total number of the US troops deployment at around 1,578,947.

The number sounded high to me too so I checked it out. (It's remarkably hard to find figures indicating the total number of Americans who have served in Iraq). But finally I found the number after much searching. According to the Obama campaign website:

More than 1.75 million servicemen and women have served in Iraq or Afghanistan. [There are only 25,000 Americans serving in Afghanistan, as opposed to 150,000 serving in Iraq.]

So we calculate:

1,750,000 * 19 percent (with brain injuries) = 332,500

Now that we know the number of brain injured is plausible, my original concern about one of the RAND numbers stands. RAND's estimate as to the what the injuries cost the US ($2,000 in lost productivity and medical care per brain injury) remains a ridiculously low figure.

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