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The Cost of War

A new study examines the risks for veterans with traumatic brain injury

Emerging evidence from a study led by Jeffrey Howard, UTSA associate professor of public health, suggests that harmful exposures during military service such as traumatic brain injury may contribute to long-term mental health, chronic disease and mortality risks.

It’s the first study of its kind to estimate the number of excess deaths among a large cohort of post-9/11 military veterans compared to the general U.S. population of the same age, sex and racial/ethnic composition.

These rates paint a pretty stark picture. The cost of war is not measured just in terms of combat deaths.


Howard and his team studied data on 2,516,189 post-9/11 military veterans and discovered that they experienced excess mortality rates compared with the total U.S. population. The numbers of excess deaths were even greater among those exposed to traumatic brain injury.

“After WWII, Korea and Vietnam, veterans of those wars tended to have lower age-specific mortality than the general population because younger, healthier people tend to be selected for military service,” Howard says. “However, we are not seeing this same pattern with veterans who have served after 9/11.”

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In this interview with Government Matters, UTSA’s Jeffrey Howard discusses the impact of traumatic brain injuries on post-9/11 veterans.

The study’s findings suggest important patterns highlighting increased health risks for veterans. In addition to overall greater mortality risks for veterans compared to the general population, there were dramatically higher mortality risks for veterans exposed to traumatic brain injury across all causes of death, especially for those with moderate-to-severe injury.

“These rates paint a pretty stark picture,” Howard says. “The cost of war is not measured just in terms of combat deaths. Military service can not only come with harmful mental exposures but environmental factors as well which follow service members for many years.”

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