PAUL SOLMAN: We've seen these costs before on the NewsHour: 23-year-old Sergeant Joseph Youn, for example, his brain hit by shrapnel two years ago, a hospital inpatient ever since.
Eddie Ryan, also 23, shot in the head by friendly fire, the Veterans Administration pays $250,000 a year to care for him at his rural New York home for as long as he lives.
When Bilmes tried to estimate the cost of all long-term medical care, due to Iraq casualties like these, she got a range of $120 billion to $285 billion, to which she and Stiglitz also add the cost of long-term disability for soldiers like Brad Heun of Tennessee, a former auto mechanic whose vertebrae were crushed in Iraq.
BRAD HEUN, Injured Iraq Veteran: There's absolutely no way I could stand on my feet for that length of time or bend over the hood of a car.
PAUL SOLMAN: After the first Gulf War, which lasted about a month, nearly half of the 700,000 Americans who fought filed disability claims. Meanwhile, 1,650,000 Americans have served in this Iraq war, more than a third of them more than once, in grueling deployments of a year or more.
LINDA BILMES: Already nearly 250,000 returning troops have filed for disability compensation. The average number of separate disabling conditions on these claims is five. And more than 50,000 troops have filed for eight or more disabling conditions; that means eight or more serious medical problems for the same person.
PAUL SOLMAN: Rex Collier happened to be one of our audio men for this story. His son, Bradley, a Marine, was wounded in Ramadi.
REX COLLIER, Father of Iraq Veteran: He was hit by a sniper from a rooftop that popped up and shot him with an AK-47 down into his shoulder, through his Kevlar. It went into his lung. And then an RPG hit a truck behind him about the same time and took shrapnel in the other arm.
PAUL SOLMAN: He's been in constant pain ever since, suffers from PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder. At a restaurant, says Collier, his son...
REX COLLIER: ... would not have his back exposed, was always on the lookout, constantly looking up and finding himself glancing up, looking around all the time, as if he were on patrol for somebody to possibly be hidden away to shoot him.
PAUL SOLMAN: Bradley Collier's disability pay: some $15,000 a year. Brad Heun gets $30,000 for a family of five.
But multiply even these modest amounts by the number of soldiers maimed, times their life expectancy, and Bilmes and Stiglitz get a long-term disability number between $276 billion and $340 billion, in which case the total cost of the war would rise to a range of about $1.5 trillion to $2 trillion.
But even $2 trillion doesn't capture the real cost to Americans, Joe Stiglitz argues, the social cost.
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: If somebody gets disabled, the U.S. government pays him disability for the rest of his life. But these disability payments are typically just a fraction of what this individual would have earned. It certainly doesn't compensate him.
If you asked him, "Would you rather have an arm or get that disability payment?" There would be no question he'd say, "Give me my arm back." So the disability payments vastly underestimate the cost to the individual, to his family, to our society.
PAUL SOLMAN: How much money would you spend, borrow, steal, maybe, to buy your son out of that whole experience, so that your son would be the guy he was before he went to Ramadi?
REX COLLIER: There really isn't a price you can put on it. Whatever was asked to avoid that, I would have given that much and found a way to find it, to come up with it.
PAUL SOLMAN: And speaking of priceless, what about life itself?
BRUCE MCELHANEY: There's no number. If my child was missing in combat, I would do absolutely anything.
PAUL SOLMAN: Anything at all, says insurance agent Bruce McElhaney, who does volunteer work for Iraq veterans and families of the deceased. One way to reckon the value of a life lost, what the family actually gets in life insurance -- at least $100,000 -- plus, if the fallen soldier bought the maximum insurance policy...
BRUCE MCELHANEY: $400,000.
PAUL SOLMAN: In addition to the $100,000?
BRUCE MCELHANEY: Correct. There are also some survivorship benefits for the spouse and the children.
PAUL SOLMAN: A lost life, therefore, costs the U.S. government a few hundred thousand dollars at most. With about 4,000 U.S. military deaths in Iraq so far, that would amount to a couple of billion.
Stiglitz, however, puts the real cost at nearly $30 billion. That's because economic research shows that Americans themselves value a life at more than $6.5 million.
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: We know how much people require to compensate them to go into a riskier occupation where there is a higher probability of injury or a death. And it's on the basis of that that this $6 million is calculated and is used throughout the government and academia.
SCOTT WALLSTEN, The Progress and Freedom Foundation: It sounds callous, but there are a few things to keep in mind.
PAUL SOLMAN: Economist Scott Wallsten and Steven Davis are the authors of two other studies on the costs of the Iraq war. While their totals are lower that Bilmes' and Stiglitz's, they agree that military insurance vastly underestimates the value of a human life.
SCOTT WALLSTEN: The commission that compensated survivors of 9/11 victims based their estimates on the net present value of the victims' future earning streams.
STEVEN DAVIS, The University of Chicago: I don't think there's any way to get around treating lives as something that have implicit economic value.
PAUL SOLMAN: Do you feel a little crass putting a number on a life like that?
JOSEPH STIGLITZ: I do feel crass, but, on the other hand, I think it's even worse not to think about it.