War: The Forever Costs

How much do American wars cost, and who pays?

Did you know for example that payments are still being made for descendents of Civil War veterans?

 The Civil War isn’t the only war of the 19th century we’re still paying pensions for. Ten people are still getting pensions from the Spanish-American War, which ended in 1898. Total cost: $50,000 a year.

That’s a bargain compared to World War I, which ended 20 years later. Though the last American veteran of that war died in 2011, thousands of surviving family members continue to collect pensions of about $20 million a year.

The real money, not surprisingly, starts with World War II, in which nearly a million U.S. soldiers were killed or wounded. The $5 billion annual cost of pensions (which hasn’t declined much from its 1991 peak, even though the veterans are dying at the rate of more than 1,000 a day) is almost as much as FEMA pays out each year in disaster aid. The much smaller Korean War, which ended in 1953, still costs about $2.8 billion a year.

In the 1960s, it often seemed that the Vietnam war would never end — and for government accountants, it hasn’t. They issue checks for $22 billion each year (nearly triple the annual cost of the Transportation Safety Administration) and have already paid $270 billion to vets and their families. And the Middle Eastern wars of the past two decades may prove to be the most costly of all.

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