Here’s a sentence in a new report, The Psychological Costs of War: Military Combat and Mental Health, that should give any soldier, or soldier’s loved one, or taxpayer, pause:
Our preferred estimates suggest that combat-induced PTSD in the Global War on Terror imposes two-year costs of $1.5 to $2.7 billion on the U.S. health care system.
The study, by the National Bureau of Economic Research, tries to estimate the impact of the wars on U.S. health-care costs. It involves complicated math, especially for those of us whose experience with slide rules was limited to fake sword fights. Its authors, led by Resul Cesur of Georgia State University, joined by colleagues from GSU and West Point, conclude that witnessing carnage is a more accurate predictor of a soldier’s future mental-health woes than the mere length of his or her deployments.
It is important to keep in mind that our cost estimates are lower-bound estimates of health care costs because they represent costs only for younger soldiers measured in the short-run. Moreover, our costs do not capture the effects of combat-induced adverse mental health on future labor market, marriage, and other socioeconomic outcomes. Future research that follows soldiers as they transition back into civilian life will be able to provide further information on the longer-run effects of combat service in the GWOT.