Another cost of Iraq war: billions for mental care
From the National Bureau of Economic Research:
In The Psychological Costs of War: Military Combat and Mental Health (NBER Working Paper No. 16927), authors Resul Cesur, Joseph Sabia, and Erdal Tekin report that the mere length of deployment or breaks between deployments are far less significant for veterans experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than the frequency of actual exposure to firefights. These researchers exploit the variation in overseas assignments that control for mental health prior to deployment in order to study the relationship between military combat and young adults' mental health. They find that U.S. soldiers who serve in combat zones are at greater risk of PTSD and are more likely to receive psychological or emotional counseling than their counterparts serving outside the United States in non-combat zones.
The authors estimate that just the combat-induced PTSD imposes two-year costs of $1.5 to $2.7 billion on the U.S. health care system. They determine that the psychological costs of combat are largest for soldiers who kill someone (or believe they have killed someone), are injured in combat, or witness the death or wounding of a civilian or a coalition member. These troops are at substantially increased risk of suicide or thoughts of suicide, depression, and PTSD. Interestingly, the authors find that observing the killing, death, or wounding of the enemy has no independent adverse psychological consequences. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that strong feelings of guilt may accompany the death of non-combatants or fellow soldiers.
Here is a March 2003 column on the likely cost of the Iraq war that got me a lot of hate mail.