Research / BFI Working PaperNov 09, 2022

The Effects of Combat Deployments on Veterans’ Outcomes

Jesse M. Bruhn, Kyle Greenberg, Matthew Gudgeon, Evan Rose, Yotam Shem-Tov

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.

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