Military Service, Combat Exposure, and Health in Retirement

Ryan D. Edwards, Queens College, City University of New York (CUNY)
Alair MacLean, Washington State University Vancouver

Military service has traditionally been the domain of healthy, robust males, but service can also reflect risk preference and socioeconomic status. Service also raises the probability of exposure to violence through combat, a significant stressor, and it may represent other types of treatments as well, both positive and negative. We might expect to find an ambiguous relationship between military service and later-life health, and several recent studies support this. In this paper, we explore the relationship between combat exposure and health past age 50 in the Health and Retirement Study, a rich longitudinal panel including many male veterans that now asks about combat exposure in its core survey. Using regression analysis and an instrumental variables approach, we show that combat exposure harms mental health and emotional well-being and raises a biomarker of stress at older ages, but it has no net effect on a wide array of physical health metrics.

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Presented in Session 139: Socio-Economic and Psycho-Social Influences on Health and Mortality