CBO: Returning veterans' health to cost $50 billion over 10 years

Returning veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will place new demands on the Veterans Affairs healthcare system, the Congressional Budget Office testified Wednesday.

The cost of treating veterans from so-called ongoing overseas contingency operations (OCOs) is expected to total between $40 billion and $55 billion over the next 10 years, CBO testified before the Senate Committee on Veterans' Affairs. The total depends on the number of military personnel deployed to overseas contingencies in the future and the rate of growth of medical expenditures per person.

Overall, CBO said, medical costs for OCO veterans are lower than for other veterans because they tend to be younger and in better health. In 2010, for example, the Department of Veterans Affairs obligated $4,800 per OCO patient on average versus $8,800 per patient for veterans from all eras. Still, OCO veterans' care could result in substantially higher costs in the future. CBO is currently analyzing the number of veterans diagnosed with several conditions — notably traumatic brain injury and mental health illnesses such as post-traumatic stress disorder — but those results aren't yet available.