Long-Term Health Care Costs for Service Members Injured in Iraq and Afghanistan

Ian J. Stewart*, Shiva Ambardar, Jeffrey T. Howard, Jud C. Janak, Lauren E. Walker, Eduard Poltavskiy, Karl C. Alcover, Jessica Watrous, Adi V. Gundlapalli, Warren B.P. Pettey, Ying Suo, Richard E. Nelson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: Over the last two decades, the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost the United States significantly in terms of lives lost, disabling injuries, and budgetary expenditures. This manuscript calculates the differences in costs between veterans with combat injuries vs veterans without combat injuries. This work could be used to project future costs in subsequent studies. Materials and Methods: In this retrospective cohort study, we randomly selected 7,984 combat-injured veterans between February 1, 2002, and June 14, 2016, from Veterans Affairs Health System administrative data. We matched injured veterans 1:1 to noninjured veterans on year of birth (± 1 year), sex, and first service branch. We observed patients for a maximum of 10 years. This research protocol was reviewed and approved by the David Grant USAF Medical Center institutional review board (IRB), the University of Utah IRB, and the Research Review Committee of the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System in accordance with all applicable Federal regulations. Results: Patients were primarily male (98.1% in both groups) and White (76.4% for injured patients, 72.3% for noninjured patients), with a mean (SD) age of 26.8 (6.6) years for the injured group and 27.7 (7.0) years for noninjured subjects. Average total costs for combat-injured service members were higher for each year studied. The difference was highest in the first year ($16,050 compared to $4,135 for noninjured). These differences remained significant after adjustment. Although this difference was greatest in the first year (marginal effect $12,386, 95% confidence interval $9,736-$15,036; P < 0.001), total costs continued to be elevated in years 2-10, with marginal effects ranging from $1,766 to $2,597 (P < 0.001 for all years). More severe injuries tended to increase costs in all categories. Conclusions: Combat injured patients have significantly higher long-term health care costs compared to their noninjured counterparts. If this random sample is extrapolated to the 53,251 total of combat wounded service members, it implies a total excess cost of $1.6 billion to date after adjustment for covariates and a median follow-up time of 10 years. These costs are likely to increase as injured veterans age and develop additional chronic conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)E2431-E2438
JournalMilitary Medicine
Issue number7-8
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2023
Externally publishedYes


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