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Contrasting the Impacts of Combat and Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief Missions on the Mental Health of Military Service Members


  • Jesse M. Cunha
  • Yu-Chu Shen
  • Zachary R. Burke


We study the differential impacts of combat and humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) missions on the mental health of U.S. Marine Corps members. The deployment experiences of any individual Marine are plausibly random conditional on the observable characteristics which are used to assign Marines into units. Leveraging this exogenous variation, we compare the incidence of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and suicide deaths among Marines who deployed to either Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) or HA/DR missions between 2001 and 2011. We find that the hazard of PTSD is close to eight times higher among Marines returning from OEF/OIF compared to those never deployed, and just 1.33 times higher among those returning from HA/DR (and never participated in OEF/OIF). Those returning from OEF/OIF missions are 1.81 times more likely than those never deployed to die by suicide when they were still active duty, and the hazard increases to almost 3 after they have left the military. In contrast, we find no difference in the hazards of suicide death between those that deployed to only HA/DR missions and non-deployed Marines.

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  • Jesse M. Cunha & Yu-Chu Shen & Zachary R. Burke, 2018. "Contrasting the Impacts of Combat and Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief Missions on the Mental Health of Military Service Members," Defence and Peace Economics, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 29(1), pages 62-77, January.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:defpea:v:29:y:2018:i:1:p:62-77
    DOI: 10.1080/10242694.2017.1349365

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Resul Cesur & Joseph J. Sabia, 2016. "When War Comes Home: The Effect of Combat Service on Domestic Violence," The Review of Economics and Statistics, MIT Press, vol. 98(2), pages 209-225, May.
    2. Cesur, Resul & Sabia, Joseph J. & Tekin, Erdal, 2013. "The psychological costs of war: Military combat and mental health," Journal of Health Economics, Elsevier, vol. 32(1), pages 51-65.
    3. David S. Lyle, 2006. "Using Military Deployments and Job Assignments to Estimate the Effect of Parental Absences and Household Relocations on Children's Academic Achievement," Journal of Labor Economics, University of Chicago Press, vol. 24(2), pages 319-350, April.
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