The Effects of Combat Deployments on Veterans' Outcomes
As millions of soldiers deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan between 2001 and 2021, Veteran Affairs Disability Compensation payments quadrupled and the veteran suicide rate rose rapidly. We estimate causal effects of combat deployments on soldiers’ well-being. To eliminate non-random selection into deployment, we leverage quasi-random assignment of newly recruited soldiers to units on staggered deployment cycles. Deployments increase injuries, combat deaths, and disability compensation, but we find limited evidence that they affect suicide, deaths of despair, financial health, incarceration, or education. More dangerous deployments have similarly limited effects. Our estimates suggest that deployment cannot explain either the recent rise in disability payments, which is more likely driven by policy changes, or the surge in noncombat deaths, which is better explained by shifts in observable characteristics of soldiers.
All opinions expressed in this manuscript are those of the authors and do not represent the opinions of the United States Military Academy, Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs or the United States Army. Alec Hoover, Andrew Hoover, and Jake Fabian provided exceptional research assistance. Luke Gallagher provided critical data collection. We thank Eli Berman, Mark Duggan, Kyu Matsuzawa, Fran Murphy, Alex Smith, CarlyWill Sloan, Anna Weber, Abigail Wozniak, Austin Wright and participants at the NBER SI Economics of National Security program for helpful comments. All errors remain ours. The views expressed herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the United States Army, the Department of Defense, the United States Military Academy, or the National Bureau of Economic Research.
- In the two decades since US service members first deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, the suicide rate for veterans, adjusted for age...