Contradicting earlier research on veteran mortality rates, post-9/11 military veterans may be experiencing higher mortality rates than the general U.S. population, suggests a new study from The University of Texas San Antonio (UTSA) that was done in collaboration with the Department of Defense (DoD) and Veterans Affairs (VA).
According to UTSA, earlier research from previous wars had found that military veterans actually benefited from lower mortality rates than the total U.S. population. UTSA's new research, however, suggests that the "healthy soldier effect" may be disappearing among post-9/11 veterans.
“After WWII, Korea and Vietnam, veterans of those wars tended to have lower age-specific mortality than the general population because younger, healthier people tend to be selected for military service,” said Jeffrey Howard, associate professor of public health, who led the study. “However, we are not seeing this same pattern with veterans who have served after 9/11.”
Published in Journal of the American Medical Association Network Open, a companion publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association, the study found excess deaths — defined as those that "exceed the typical number of expected deaths during a particular period for a given population" — among a large cohort of post-9/11 military veterans than compared to the general U.S. population of the same age, sex and racial/ethnic composition.
Looking at the data gathered from 2,516,189 post-9/11 military veterans, the study found that, "while accidents and suicides contributed the most to the number of excess deaths among veterans with and without TBI, there were also significant numbers of excess deaths from cancer, cardiovascular disease and homicide among veterans with TBI exposure." This suggests that harmful exposures during military service such as traumatic brain injury may contribute to long-term mental health, chronic disease, and mortality risks, states a UTSA press release.
“These rates paint a pretty stark picture,” Howard said. “The cost of war is not measured just in terms of combat deaths. Military service can not only come with harmful mental exposures but environmental factors as well which follow service members for many years.”
“After 20 years of war, it is vital to focus attention on what puts veterans at risk for accelerated aging and increased mortality, as well as how it can be mitigated,” he added.