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Did Vietnam Veterans Get Sicker in the 1990s? The Complicated Effects of Military Service on Self-Reported Health

  • Joshua D. Angrist
  • Stacey H. Chen
  • Brigham R. Frandsen

The veterans disability compensation (VDC) program, which provides a monthly stipend to disabled veterans, is the third largest American disability insurance program. Since the late 1990s, VDC growth has been driven primarily by an increase in claims from Vietnam veterans, raising concerns about costs as well as health. We use the draft lottery to study the long-term effects of Vietnam-era military service on health and work in the 2000 Census. These estimates show no significant overall effects on employment or work-related disability status, with a small effect on non-work-related disability for whites. On the other hand, estimates for white men with low earnings potential show a large negative impact on employment and a marked increase in non-work-related disability rates. The differential impact of Vietnam-era service on low-skill men cannot be explained by more combat or war-theatre exposure for the least educated, leaving the relative attractiveness of VDC for less skilled men and the work disincentives embedded in the VDC system as a likely explanation.

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Paper provided by National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc in its series NBER Working Papers with number 14781.

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Date of creation: Mar 2009
Date of revision:
Publication status: published as Angrist, Joshua D. & Chen, Stacey H. & Frandsen, Brigham R., 2010. "Did Vietnam veterans get sicker in the 1990s? The complicated effects of military service on self-reported health," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 94(11-12), pages 824-837, December.
Handle: RePEc:nbr:nberwo:14781
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  1. J.D. Angrist & Guido W. Imbens & D.B. Rubin, 1993. "Identification of Causal Effects Using Instrumental Variables," NBER Technical Working Papers 0136, National Bureau of Economic Research, Inc.
  2. Angrist, Joshua D, 1990. "Lifetime Earnings and the Vietnam Era Draft Lottery: Evidence from Social Security Administrative Records: Errata," American Economic Review, American Economic Association, vol. 80(5), pages 1284-86, December.
  3. Joshua D. Angrist & Stacey H. Chen, 2009. "Long-Term Economic Consequences of Vietnam-Era Conscription: Schooling, Experience and Earnings," Royal Holloway, University of London: Discussion Papers in Economics 09/02, Department of Economics, Royal Holloway University of London.
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  5. Joshua D. Angrist, 1993. "The effect of veterans' benefits on education and earnings," Industrial and Labor Relations Review, ILR Review, Cornell University, ILR School, vol. 46(4), pages 637-652, July.
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  8. Duggan, Mark & Singleton, Perry & Song, Jae, 2007. "Aching to retire? The rise in the full retirement age and its impact on the social security disability rolls," Journal of Public Economics, Elsevier, vol. 91(7-8), pages 1327-1350, August.
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  13. Daniel Eisenberg & Brian Rowe, 2008. "The Effects of Smoking in Young Adulthood on Smoking and Health Later in Life: Evidence Based on the Vietnam Era Draft Lottery," Working Papers 08-35, Center for Economic Studies, U.S. Census Bureau.
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