The Iraq War: What It's Costing Us Here At Home Part 4: Veterans' Affairs

The Iraq War: What It's Costing Us Here At Home Part 4: Veterans' Affairs

M. President,

Three weeks ago I began a series of speeches on the price America is paying for the failed War in Iraq. The number of American servicemen and women killed in action has risen to 3,855-and with every death of a husband or a wife, a son or a daughter, a mom or a dad, the suffering of a family soars to that place where numbers don't matter, to that place where pain is beyond infinite.

I've spoken about what the war has cost us financially. Since the war began more than four long years ago, we have spent over $455 billion. Over the long run, it will cost almost $2 trillion. Again, those aren't just numbers. Those were cargo scanners that could have been installed in our ports, safer bridges that could have been built, life-saving cancer research that could have been done-a world of possibilities that passed us all by.

I've tried to help us all imagine what we're giving up by failing to wake ourselves up from the living nightmare that is the War in Iraq.
Today I'd like to talk about the people who have given so much up, people who will be paying for this war for the rest of their lives: our veterans and their families. On Sunday we celebrated Veterans' Day. I'd like to talk about how much we could do for those who served with the amount of money we used to send them into harm's way.

28,451 troops have come back from Iraq with horrible wounds. Some wounds are physical. Some have had their legs or arms blown off by bombs, some are blind from shrapnel in their eyes. And some wounds are mental.

Denying that war can wound a brain along with the rest of the body is denying so many veterans' nightmares, flashbacks, shock, or changes in personality so radical that loved ones no longer recognize the person they once knew.

Today Army researchers are releasing a study showing that the full psychological impact of the war tends to hit soldiers even harder 6 months after they return from the war. So the ranks of the suffering are about to grow by many thousands.

Beyond the human costs of these injuries, the financial costs to our society are tremendous.
A report released by Physicians for Social Responsibility puts the cost of medical care and disability benefits for veterans returning from Iraq at over $660 billion. So in a very direct sense, the war has been more than twice as financially expensive as we might think just looking at the combat costs.

The human and financial costs don't end with just health care. Here's a shocking statistic: veterans make up 1-in-4 homeless people in this country-that means almost 200,000 vets don't have a home to go back to tonight. Experts say rates of homelessness are spiraling up faster than they did after the war in Vietnam.
M. President, this is a moral outrage. These people put their lives on the line for our country, no questions asked. It is shameful that our men and women in uniform would be sent to patrol the streets of Baghdad, only to have to come back and sleep on the streets of their home towns.

That's why Democrats in Congress are working to give Veterans the support they deserve. The Senate has just passed a bill that contains the largest increase in funding for our veterans in history. We're reinvigorating our Veterans Affairs department with a record $87 billion, which is several billion dollars more than President Bush said he was willing to give. $37 billion is for veterans' health care. Billions of dollars are headed to expand medical services, and beef up the administrative side so vets spend less time waiting to get their benefits.

Compare this to the costs of combat. {CHART 2}
We could pay for the entire Veterans Health Administration budget, all $37 billion of it, with what we spend in less than 4 months of combat in Iraq.

Just as important as making sure vets have excellent health care is making sure they have the opportunity to get an excellent education.
I'm proud to be a cosponsor of a bill offered by Sen. Webb, that would be the biggest boost to veterans' education since World War II.

Preparing thousands of veterans to enter the civilian workforce through a first-rate education would cost $5.4 billion next year. {CHART 3}
In other words, it would cost what it takes to fund combat in Iraq for roughly 2 weeks.

Democrats in Congress are also working to end the pandemic of homelessness. I joined with Sen. Obama to support a bill called Homes for Heroes.
The bill would establish permanent housing and services for low-income veterans and their families.

It would make more rental assistance available, assist providers of veterans' housing and services, and focus more attention on vets who are homeless. Of course, the more soldiers who go off to war, the more necessary this bill becomes.
The portion of the bill that helps community and nonprofit organizations offer housing to low-income veterans would require $225 million to fund. Compare that to the costs of combat. {CHART 4} We grind up enough money to house thousands of veterans in 16 hours in Iraq-not even a day.
Of course the price we pay in dollars can never compare to the price our wounded warriors and their families pay, in lost limbs, in haunted dreams, in lives changed forever. That's a price that not one more soldier should be asked to pay for a pointless war.

In the meantime, we need to act fast to get returning vets the help they need. Veterans got their wounds following their government's orders. Those wounds can only heal if the government re-orders its priorities.

Democrats wanted to send the bill increasing veterans' funding to the President before Veterans' Day. But President Bush is trying to use veterans' funding as an excuse to veto other programs America depends on. The President has also said that funding a new GI Bill for veterans' education is too expensive.

Never have calls for fiscal responsibility been so morally irresponsible. First and foremost, we can never forget that the price tag for veterans' services wouldn't be so high if this administration didn't recklessly send them into harm's way to begin with.

The President seems to think we can't afford to spend on both veterans' health and children's health. He seems to think we can't afford to treat the wounds our soldiers suffer and fund cancer research to save civilians from that brutal killer. He seems to think we can't afford to ensure the safety of our returning soldiers and make sure all Americans find safety in the workplace.

But he did seem to think we could afford to chase Osama Bin Laden in Afghanistan and invade Iraq-even though both situations are disasters.

He did seem to think we could fight a 2-trillion dollar war in Iraq and give a massive tax cut to millionaires and billionaires-even though the economy hovers near recession and most American families are no better off than at the beginning of his administration. He did seem to think he could sign every bill the Republican-controlled Congress sent him, running up debt to the tune of $3 trillion, borrowing money from foreign countries to pay for a war that makes no sense, ignoring pressing national priorities, underfunding care for veterans,
leaving our ports vulnerable, leaving our educational system in peril, leaving the massive crisis of climate change completely ignored,
leaving children without health care, leaving 47 million Americans with no health insurance whatsoever, and he thought he could get away with it. Now is the time for us to stand up and say, sometimes you can't have it both ways. But when it comes to children's health, education, homeland security, and veterans' care -we'd better be getting all the support we need.

M. President,
On Sunday, our nation devoted a day to those who devoted themselves to the nation through military service.
We took that day to celebrate how lucky we are, how unbelievably blessed we are that such brave men and women rise up again and again to offer their service when they hear the call. I hope we took that day to offer not just words, but deeds of thanks. We took that day to remember the duty we have to them, because of the devotion they showed to us.

Veterans' Day is about a fundamental principle: When soldiers ship off to war, if we can look them in the eye and tell them there's a good reason we're waving goodbye, we'd better be able to look them in the eye when they come back and tell them we mean it when we say they're welcome home.
To the 171,000 troops still in Iraq, America's message on Sunday was, we look forward to the soonest possible year when we can celebrate Veterans' Day here with all of you.

M. President, I yield the floor.