2006 January 08 Sunday
Iraq War Might Cost $2 Trillion Or Higher

Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government have released a paper which argues that the total cost of the Iraq war to the United States will be $2 trillion or even higher.

Three years ago, as America was preparing to go to war in Iraq, there were few discussions of the likely costs. When Larry Lindsey, President Bush’s economic adviser, suggested that they might reach $200 billion, there was a quick response from the White House: that number was a gross overestimation.[2] Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz claimed that Iraq could “really finance its own reconstruction,” apparently both underestimating what was required and the debt burden facing the country. Lindsey went on to say that “The successful prosecution of the war would be good for the economy.”[3]

Many aspects of the Iraq venture have turned out differently from what was purported before the war: there were no weapons of mass destruction, no clear link between Al Qaeda and Iraq, no imminent danger that would warrant a pre-emptive war. Whether Americans were greeted as liberators or not, there is evidence that they are now viewed as occupiers. Stability has not been established. Clearly, the benefits of the War have been markedly different from those claimed.

So too for the costs. It now appears that Lindsey was indeed wrong—by grossly underestimating the costs. Congress has already appropriated approximately $357 billion for military operations, reconstruction, embassy costs, enhanced security at US bases and foreign aid programs in Iraq and Afghanistan. This total, which covers costs through the end of November 2005, includes $251bn for military operations in Iraq, $82bn for Afghanistan and $24bn for related foreign operations, such as reconstruction, embassy safety and base security. [4] These costs have been rising throughout the war. Since FY 2003, the monthly average cost of operations has risen from $4.4bn to $7.1 bn – the costs of operations in Iraq have grown by nearly 20% since last year (whereas Afghanistan was 8% lower than last year).[5] The Congressional Budget Office has now estimated that in their central, mid-range scenario, the Iraq war will cost over $266 billion more in the next decade, putting the direct costs of the war in the range of $500 billion[6].

Stiglitz and Bilmes are confident that the costs are north of $1 trillion and many of those costs are not paid by the US government directly as line items labelled as being for Iraq.

These estimates, however, underestimate the War’s true costs to America by a wide margin. In this paper, we attempt to provide a range of estimates for what those costs have been, and are likely to be. Even taking a conservative approach, we have been surprised at how large they are. We can state, with some degree of confidence, that they exceed a trillion dollars.

Providing even rough order of magnitude estimates of the costs turns out to be very difficult, for a number of reasons. There are standard problems in cost allocation; there are future costs associated with the Iraq war that are not included in the current calculations; there are marked differences between social costs and prices paid by the government (and it is only the latter which traditionally get reflected in the cost estimates); and there are macro-economic costs, associated both with the increase in the price of oil and the Iraq war expenditures.

How to quantify the costs of lives lost in Iraq?

Consider, as an example, accounting for the value of the more than two thousand American soldiers who have died since the beginning of the war, and the more than sixteen thousand who have been wounded. The military may quantify the value of a life lost as the amount it pays in death benefits and life insurance to survivors – which has recently been increased from $12,240 to $100,000 (death benefit) and from $250,000 to $500,000 (life insurance). But in other areas, such as safety and environmental regulation, the government values a life of a prime age male at around $6 million, so that the cost of the American soldiers who have already lost their lives adds up to around $12 billion[7].

The standard estimates of the death costs also omit the cost of the nearly one hundred American civilian contractors[8] and the four American journalists that have been killed in Iraq, as well as the cost of coalition soldiers, and non-American contractors working for US firms.

I think I see an oversight on their part: They need to adjust for the background death rate of soldiers who are not deployed and calculate how many more died because they were in Iraq. My guess is that the increase in the number killed was not proportionately as great as the proportion who suffer permanent damage. Some of that permanent damage to brains happens without even any physical injuries. Under intense stress parts of the body decay in ways we can not fix. Also, the soldiers are exposed to toxic substances at a much higher rate when in a combat zone. That also doesn't show up in casualty figures.

They account for a large variety of costs including opportunity costs such as wages not made in the private sector because National Guard and Reserves were called up, interest costs on the money borrowed to fight the war, care of permanently injured soldiers over the rest of their lives, accelerated depreciation of military hardware, and macroeconomic effects such as on the cost of oil. Even if you think their macroeconomic calculations are too high the costs they add up before bringing in the macroeconomic effects (see figure 3) are still between $839 and $1104 billion.

My guess is that the amount of permanent damage done to troops in combat has been underestimated because we lack the ability to measure some of the damage. So, for example, brain damage that lowers intelligence by only, say, 5 IQ points or that causes emotional problems will mostly go unmeasured and unquantified. Also, if someone comes back from the war mentally damaged in ways that cause them to be violent how to quantify the costs to friends, families, or strangers who end up on the receiving end of this violence? (aside: higher crime rate immigrant groups impose similar costs on a much larger scale)

They assume a gradual withdrawal of US troops until 2010. That seems realistic. Bush will resist a total withdrawal. A new President entering office in 2009 will not feel as great an obligation to defend Bush's mistakes.

Click through on the link and read the whole thing.

Stiglitz points out that his cost estimates do not include costs to the UK or Iraq.

Mr Stiglitz told the Guardian that despite the staggering costs laid out in their paper the economists had erred on the side of caution. "Our estimates are very conservative, and it could be that the final costs will be much higher. And it should be noted they do not include the costs of the conflict to either Iraq or the UK." In 2003, as US and British troops were massing on the Iraq border, Larry Lindsey, George Bush's economic adviser, suggested the costs might reach $200bn. The White House said the figure was far too high, and the deputy defence secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, said Iraq could finance its own reconstruction.

Three years later, with more than 140,000 US soldiers on the ground in Iraq, even the $200bn figure was very low, according to the two economists.

Eventually I expect medical costs to be lowered by advances in gene therapy, stem cell therapy, and other types of therapies coming in the future. However, those costs will not begin to fall for some years going forward.

Also see a New York Times article entitled "The Struggle to Gauge a War's Psychological Cost".

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2006 January 08 08:11 PM  Mideast Iraq Costs


Comments
Invisible Scientist said at January 8, 2006 10:36 PM:

I do not wish to insult the intelligence of any of the readers here, but the importance of the $2 Trillion figure is due to the fact that the seasonally adjusted money supply measures as of last week, are as folows:

M1 = $1,389 Trillion
M2 = $6,711 Trillion
M3 = $10,240 Trillion.

The thus the cost of the Iraq war alone, is more than M1, and almost 30 % of M2.

In 1919, according to the Versailles treaty, England and France imposed a penalty of $31 billion inflation adjusted dollars on Germany (to visualize the importance of this sum of money, let us recall that during the 1930s the US money supply M2 was between $40 - $55 billion). To be honest, Germany collapsed in 1928 and was unable to continue the payments, but I have read that a total of about $9 billion were paid by the Germans to England and France. This much money ruined Germany for sure, but the $9 billion that destroyed and totally ruined Germany, still constitutes more than 20 % of the US money supply M2 at that time.

I don't know how accurate Randall Parker's $2 Trillion number is, but if true, this clearly implies that we cannot afford to expand the war to other countries very easily...

mik said at January 9, 2006 10:18 AM:

Invisible Scientist after many comparisons of US and Germany M1 and M2 in 1928 to the cost of Iraq neo-cons project says:

"this clearly implies that we cannot afford to expand the war to other countries very easily..."

The cost of Iraq's neo-con exercise is so high because of after war activities. It is fairly obvious that Iraq is the last mis-adventure where - in moronic words of Powell - you break it, you own it.

For the next 10-15 years there will be nothing, or in extreme cases - Iran? - breakage only, followed by US friendly dictator on a white mule backed by some international missionaries,
sorta, kinda Afganistan-like with obvious changes.

Imposing democracy on unwilling Mussulman in kid gloves and in an welfare democracy mode of operation is not financially feasible. Even Crony-In-Chief must understand that.


Ivan Kirigin said at January 9, 2006 3:58 PM:

In other news, the US military uses around $500B yearly.

Big numbers, yes.

If you think the Iraq war is worse than a waste of time, than it isn't worth it, obviously.

It's like being forced to eat and pay for a very bad meal, then complaining about the price.

Lurker said at January 9, 2006 6:59 PM:

Do you think we have had our fill yet? I am seeing an increasing amount of talk about an impending nuclear strike on Iran. I think the neo-con hawks already had this in their playbooks for a long time now, and the openings that have been so generously provided by that nutjob Iranian president may be just too good to pass up. As if the upcoming Iranian oil bourse in March wasn't already motivation enough.

If this does transpire, I fear we will all be treated to another demonstration of the law of unintended consequences (and unforseen costs).

Invisible Scientist said at January 9, 2006 7:53 PM:

For those oil companies who understand that the only way to provent the alternative energy research, is to deplete the funds that might be leftover after a war, would naturally expand and prolongue the war as much as possible, so that no funds would possibly be allocated to research outside oil. To be on the Cynical side, maybe the Iranians and the Saudis pray that the war gets prolongued and escalated, so that the energy research budget starves. Just put yourself in the place of OPEC experts, and try to be a little cynical, and remember that in Ancient Greece, the Cynics were originally a cult of philosophers who saw the world exactly as it is, but not as it should be. The only way to delay the natinal Bronx Project research on electric cars, would be to divert all the funds to war.

Robert Speirs said at January 10, 2006 7:38 AM:

So, what would be the cost of NOT liberating Iraq? Now that it's been established that Saddam did have many and frequent connections with terrorists and he did have a nuclear program (and all the Michael Moore-ons have been lying through their teeth), don't we have to take into consideration the cost of a suitcase nuke exploding in DC? How about the freedom of 50 million Iraqis and Afghans? How much is that worth? Of course, they're only ignorant Third-Worlders, so they're not worth much. Why, they can't even appreciate freedom, don't you know? They just loved being shredded, massacred and exploited. Rampant terrorism would reduce the US economy and culture to the level of some totalitarian hellhole like, say, France. I dispute your figures, but the cost, whatever it really is, has been more than worthwhile.

Jim said at January 10, 2006 8:24 AM:

robert speirs says: "How about the freedom of 50 million Iraqis and Afghans? How much is that worth? Of course, they're only ignorant Third-Worlders, so they're not worth much. Why, they can't even appreciate freedom, don't you know? They just loved being shredded, massacred and exploited."

why aren't we in a few african countries if you believe that crap? we could spend orders of magnitude less to stop true genocide by relatively weak and petty dictators.

iraq was stable when we invaded. we had un weapons inspectors saying they don't have wmd. after invading we conclude they didn't have wmd. wmd claims were manufactured lies for which the nytimes was used like a tool.

if we really care about nuclear weapons programs and dictators why not pakistan and n. korea - dictators who actually developed nukes and sell them to whomever has money.

let's face it.... iraq was about oil, israel, and war-mongering administration neo-cons looking at the map like it was a game of risk.

do you work for the bush administration? or maybe the likud?

mik said at January 10, 2006 9:33 AM:

Jim wrote:

"do you work for the bush administration? or maybe the likud?"

It is reasonably well known that Israel much preferred that Iranian regime to be overthrown instead of
Saddam. Of course they would not mind both of them to be gone, but if one has to choose Iran is a much bigger threat.

In 20/20 hindsight that view was absolutely correct. Of course once one puts anti-semitic blinders, as Jim did, one becomes blind.


Jim said at January 10, 2006 2:33 PM:

"Of course once one puts anti-semitic blinders, as Jim did, one becomes blind."

that's bullsh*t to call me anti-semitic for my comment. firstly of all, i'm not anti-semitic, but in fact have many life-long jewish friends. secondly, israel IS a significant reason that we went to war in iraq. my point was that we weren't there for wmd and terrorism against america. generally speaking i don't dislike israel (and certainly like them a lot more than any other middle eastern country) - they are the only reasonable democracy in the middle east and significant strategic ally, but because they have a problems with their neighbors, i don't need $2trillion of this countries tax dollars going to invade another country, much less when they're not even a direct threat!

do you care to explain why you slander me like you did? i can tell by your nonsense email that you must be a pretty stand-up guy, probably robert speirs in disguise?

larger point here... i like RP's site cause he has the balls to speak the politically-incorrect truth (like stupid immigrants are bad; nukes are the obvious baseload solution to energy problem) and another truth i'd put in that category is that we didn't go to iraq because of terrorism against america or wmd, both were manufactured excuses for the american public.

gcochran said at January 10, 2006 3:50 PM:


To Mr. Speirs: In order to build a nuclear weapon, you need refined fissionables - U-235, Pu-239, or U-233. You can only make plutonium or U-233 with a breeder reactor,. To get bomb-grade U-235, you need fairly elaborate separations facilities: a gaseous diffusion plant or centrifuges or a calutron.

Iraq didn't have any such facilties:. They weren't beginning to build any. So how can you say they had a nuclear program? Let me guess: you can say it because you're a liar.


Stephen said at January 10, 2006 4:26 PM:

Robert said: Now that it's been established that Saddam did have many and frequent connections with terrorists and he did have a nuclear program

Gosh Robert, your revelation has shocked me to my bones. To help me deal with the fact that I've been wrong all these years, will you provide a citation of the post-invasion report that says this?

Randall Parker said at January 10, 2006 7:55 PM:

Robert Speirs,

Saddam wasn't funding Bin Laden. Wealthy Saudis were though. Saddam was not funding terrorists who were aiming to strike us.

Saddam also was not developing nuclear weapons and really had abandoned his attempt to do so.

mik said at January 11, 2006 12:12 AM:

Jim wrote:
"israel IS a significant reason that we went to war in iraq"

Let me see. Israel has 2 hostile neigbours, both with names starting with 'I'.
One has an open and active nuke program, another doesn't (of course, dispite memory faults of some people, back in 2002 virtually everybody thought they had something).
Enemy with active nuke program has suicidal jihadis in goverment, another neighbour has a thug-in-chief with very fine survival instinct.
Enemy with nuke program has almost 3 times larger population than enemy with no program.
Enemy with nuke program is OK economically, enemy with no program was bombed to stone age in 1991 and is under trade embargo for more than decade.
Enemy with nuke program is acknowledged terror master (Hizbolla and to some extent Hamas are their clients), enemy with no program loves terrorists, but supports them in a very stingy fashion, relatively speaking.

Given all that, what Israel supporter would want USA to do? Why, attack a weak enemy of course and let a strong enemy build a nuke in peace. So they can test it on Israel as they said they would do the first chance they get.

That Israel supporter must be very stupid. Bushites maybe are deluded but they are not stupid.

Anti-semite or anti-Israeli (and what is the difference, pray tell) would also see things in that distorted way. But then, as I said, anti-semitism prevents rational thinking.

Jorge D.C. said at January 11, 2006 1:54 AM:

Also, if someone comes back from the war mentally damaged in ways that cause them to be violent how to quantify the costs to friends, families, or strangers who end up on the receiving end of this violence?

Holy crap. It's one thing to debate going to war and its costs. But fretting over the psychological trauma to war veterans is just more Anti-Western Civilization post-modern BS.

A free society needs warriors and a warrior component in the culture! Many will come back dead and damaged from war. It's understood. And it's acceptable.

Real, lasting benefits accrue to a free society that re-absorbs its veteran population. Think of the USA's great leaders. Tons have been veterans. Think of the tremendous pride and self-worth generated by families that make the sacrifice. These people are the backbone of the nation. When adding up the human costs think about the huge benefits too. There is no more noble sacrifice than fighting for freedom.

War often is the answer. It was in 1776, 1812, 1860, etc etc. Periodic wars keep us free, and they keep us from sliding into complete decadence. Remember, it's the Left who would have us abandon all the traditional aspects of American society and morph into a feeble pascifist nanny state.

Americans are Jacksonian warriors. We gladly pay the cost of combat. Perhaps you are a bean counter by nature but this posting just reeks of alien cultural perspective. Americans are not afraid to do battle and come home in a box or a wheelchair. Hollywood anti-war movies are out of touch with reality. Reality is U.S. war hospitals filled with guys who want to get back to their units.

Having said all that, I do agree that the final dollar amount tax bill for Iraq nation building fiasco will be obscene and disgusting (and the fact that we don't defray costs by unapologetically claiming the spoils of war in the form of Iraqi oil is a huge flashing sign that the empire is in trouble).

seelow heights said at January 11, 2006 11:44 AM:

Americans are Jacksonian warriors. We gladly pay the cost of combat. Perhaps you are a bean counter by nature but this posting just reeks of alien cultural perspective. Americans are not afraid to do battle and come home in a box or a wheelchair. Hollywood anti-war movies are out of touch with reality. Reality is U.S. war hospitals filled with guys who want to get back to their units.
Your description of Americans as "Jacksonian warriors" is more apt for the period of the Spanish-American War and earlier. Remember the great reluctance of the US public to enter the World Wars. The US has undergone enormous cultural and genetic change since the late nineteenth century.The cultural changes are obvious but many are in some degree of denial about the genetic change. The "Jacksonian warrior" component of the population(mainly Scots-Irish) has become a´progressively smaller part of the population beginning with the first period of mass immigration . To(perhaps) illustrate the impact of this change just think of where you would go in the Western world if you wanted to participate in a good barroom brawl.England and Scotland, not the contemporary USA.

Hugh Angell said at January 11, 2006 5:29 PM:

Obviously the figures Randall cites are fictitious ( and that is being charitable) for if
the esteemed economists who produced them had used the same methodology to calculate the
cost of WW2, Korea or Vietnam, the wars simply could not have happened or our national debt
would be exponentially higher than it is today.

Consider that, with a population some 45% of the current US population of today the 1945
United States was able, for some 4 years, to sustain a military force in the field at a far
greater combat tempo than what Iraq entails, a force some 75 times larger with more than
200 times as many KIA.

Obviously this was financially impossible as, I might add were Korea, Vietnam and the
entire US military posture from 1941 until 1990, according the esteemed economists Randall
cites. That, or the wars and the 3,400,000 MEN! under arms, the 100 wing Air Force and the
600 ship Navy were government fabrications of the 1950's and 60's. I find this all hard to
believe so I must postulate an alternative theory.

Mine is the esteemed economists are putting excrement to toilet paper and calling it
economic analysis!

mik said at January 11, 2006 7:38 PM:

Hugh Angell wrote:

"Obviously this was financially impossible as, I might add were Korea, Vietnam and the
entire US military posture from 1941 until 1990, according the esteemed economists Randall
cites. That, or the wars and the 3,400,000 MEN! under arms, the 100 wing Air Force and the
600 ship Navy were government fabrications of the 1950's and 60's."

I'm not sure how solid numbers are that Mr Parker quotes, but there is an obvious difference that increases costs hugely. US troops are required to fight war in kid's gloves and reconstruct the bastards country while doing it.

Lurker said at January 11, 2006 8:00 PM:

"It is reasonably well known that Israel much preferred that Iranian regime to be overthrown instead of
Saddam. Of course they would not mind both of them to be gone, but if one has to choose Iran is a much bigger threat."

Just wait a bit.

gcochran said at January 11, 2006 8:24 PM:


The numbers are fairly reasonable, the problem is that people commenting are ignoramuses. If they were not ignoramuses, they would automatically compare a trillion dollars with current US GDP for a sense of scale. THey would know that back in WWII, we put something like half the GDP into the war: today we're putting in about 1%. Those hypothetical knowledgeable people would know how to adjust for inflation. They would also understand that today's aremd forces are very capital intensive, much more so than in the past - a small force is quite expensive. Adjusted for inflation, expenses thus far are creeping up on those for Korea - more affordable, of course, since we're a bigger and wealthier country now. Although not as affaordable as you'd expect, since the citizenry has a negative savings rate.

Congressional Budget office is estimating $610 billion by 2010. I think they're low. They're certainly not counting the increaased oil prices that are, in part, a consequence of us invading Iraq in a way that _reduced_ Iraqi oil exports.

Speaking of which, I had lots of people telling me (back in the summer of 2003) that Iraq would be exporting lots more oil real soon now: for example, by late 2004. I said it wouldn't happen, and it didn't. As I understand it, a good fraction of the country, a good fraction of posters here, would be less inclined to listen to me now that yet another of my predictions has come true. It's not what they wanted to hear. Instead they concentrate on people whose every checkable statement turns out to be incorrect. They want cheerleaders, not analysts. Just like our beloved POTUS.

Randall Parker said at January 11, 2006 10:09 PM:

Jorge D.C.,

The Iraq war creates more damaged soldiers than many previous conflicts for a few reasons:

1) There's no front line in Iraq. So even the logistics chain is in the war.

2) The intensity of the combat is higher because it is more 24x7 and the equipment allows soldiers to be moved more quickly to where fighting is happening.

3) Since the civilian populace is a threat the soldiers do not have breaks where they hang out in friendlier zones.

4) The injured are far more likely to survive.

I could go on. But you can see the general pattern here.

But those previous conflicts really did create plenty of damaged returnees.

I didn't bother to dig up links to medical research on PTSD damage and other combat damage that is not visible. But there's a big research literature and some neat papers get published on it occasionally. For example, (and I can not find it now) a few months ago a paper came out claiming that smokers get about twice as much stress-related damage in combat than non-smokers. I almost posted on it and in retrospect should have.

You ought to go digging on the science before ascribing claims of psychological damage to leftist propaganda. Scientists can see the brain damage on brain scans. The "psychological" damage is really physical neuronal damage in some cases. See, for example this report from 1996:

Because depression can raise the levels of glucocorticoids in the blood, Yvette Sheline and her colleagues at Washington University in St. Louis compared the hippocampi of people who had recovered from long-term, major depression with controls matched to them by age, education, gender and height. They found that the people with a history of depression had smaller hippocampi ­ averaging as much as 15 percent smaller in volume.

Tamara Gurvits and Roger Pitman of Harvard found that this region of the brain was 26 percent smaller in Vietnam veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder than in combat veterans without stress disorder. Douglas Bremner of Yale found a 12 percent atrophy in the left hippocampus of adults who suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder because of childhood sexual abuse.

Sapolsky stressed that these findings do not prove that stress caused the brains to shrink ­ long-term prospective studies would be necessary to establish that, perhaps measuring the brains of soldiers before they go into combat and re-measuring them long afterward. Still, the evidence is mounting that stress affects human brains. "Each of the studies has some weaknesses," Sapolsky wrote in his Science review, "but they are countered by complementary strengths in the other studies."

Or how about this report from 2005:

Last year researchers from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revisited more than 18,000 Vietnam veterans who had been subjects of a detailed health survey in 1985, to see who had died and how. For the first five years after their return home, men with combat experience appeared more likely to have died of accidents, overdoses and the like. After that, they seemed no more at risk than comrades who had spent the war in non-combat roles (Archives of Internal Medicine, vol 164, p 1908).

The CDC study took no account of whether the soldiers were suffering from PTSD. But now Joseph Boscarino of the New York Academy of Medicine has re-analysed the 1985 data to assess which men were suffering from the condition. That analysis, to be published in Annals of Epidemiology, reveals stark differences in death rates persisting 30 years after the end of the Vietnam conflict. All men with PTSD, whether from combat experience or not, were more likely to die from "external causes" such as accidents, drugs or suicide. But men who developed PTSD as a consequence of combat were also more likely to die of heart disease and, surprisingly, various kinds of cancer.

"Other studies have found a link between heart disease and stress, but this is the first time there has been such a direct association with PTSD so many years later," Boscarino told New Scientist. "The cancer surprised us, and it isn't explained by differences in smoking."

People with PTSD may experience long-term changes in various immune reactions, and in levels of the stress hormone cortisol and chemicals such as adrenalin and dopamine that underlie fight-or-flight reflexes, Boscarino says. He found a direct relationship between the amount of combat exposure and the reduction in cortisol levels. "The excess deaths in both PTSD groups show that stress can kill," he says. "But the much greater effect among the combat veterans shows there is something especially bad about that."


Another from 2005 which found higher rates of harmful behavior among combat veterans as compared to veterans who didn't see fighting:

CHAPEL HILL – Besides having faced grave risks inherent in military hostilities, many combat veterans experience a heightened chance of suffering heart and lung damage later in life because of unhealthy personal habits, a new University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill study concludes.

The study was presented today (April 29) at the American Heart Association scientific meeting in Washington, D.C. It found combat veterans more likely to be heavy smokers and drinkers than both veterans not directly involved in fighting and non-veterans, according to Anna Johnson, an epidemiology doctoral student at the UNC School of Public Health.

Others involved in the research were Drs. Kathryn Rose and Gerardo Heiss, assistant professor and professor, respectively, of epidemiology at UNC, Dr. Mario Sims, professor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson and Dr. Janice Williams of LaGrange, Ga.

"Previous studies have shown higher rates of unhealthy behaviors and risk factors among veterans of Vietnam and more recent wars compared to population controls," said Johnson, who led the study. "However, little has been known about combat veterans from earlier conflicts. For that reason, we investigated the association between combat stress and cardiovascular behavioral risk factors among 5,368 black and white men participating in the UNC-directed Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) study."

Based on their responses to eight questions about their history of military service and combat exposures, 2,054 men were classified as non-veterans, 2,131 were designated non-combat veterans and 1,183 were listed as combat veterans, she said.

"Those exposed to combat served during the World War II, Korean and Vietnam eras," Johnson said. "Behavioral risk factors include pack-years of smoking, heavy alcohol consumption, low physical activity, obesity (based on body mass index) and large waist circumference," Johnson said. "We found that military service, which spanned the years 1939-1998, was more common among older men, whites and those with more education."

After adjusting for age, race and education, combat veterans were about twice as likely as non-vets to be heavy smokers, four times as likely to be heavy drinkers and moderately less likely to be physically inactive, she said. They were not more likely to be obese.

Similarly, when researchers compared those who had seen combat to veterans not exposed to such danger, associations for smoking, drinking and physical activity were in the same direction but more modest, Johnson said. Combat vets were more likely to be obese and had larger waists on average than those service personnel not involved in fighting.

Consistent with younger veterans of more recent wars, older men with distant combat experience had higher odds of heavy smoking, heavy drinking and obesity but lower odds of physical inactivity compared to non-military and non-combat military controls.

I found those reports and many others with this Google search on eurekalert.org. I've found more reports in the past using brain scans of vets. I'm sure you could find lots of studies if you wanted to spend some time digging.

I happen to be interested in these sorts of reports because I'm interested in the health effects of stress. So I always read reports on combat vets and stress disorders when I see them.

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