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Am J Epidemiol. 2008 Jun 1;167(11):1269-76. doi: 10.1093/aje/kwn084. Epub 2008 Apr 23.

Psychiatric diagnoses in historic and contemporary military cohorts: combat deployment and the healthy warrior effect.

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  • 1Behavioral Science and Epidemiology Department, Naval Health Research Center, San Diego, CA 92106, USA.


Research studies have identified heightened psychiatric problems among veterans of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF). However, these studies have not compared incidence rates of psychiatric disorders across robust cohorts, nor have they documented psychiatric problems prior to combat exposure. The authors' objectives in this study were to determine incidence rates of diagnosed mental disorders in a cohort of Marines deployed to combat during OIF or OEF in 2001-2005 and to compare these with mental disorder rates in two historical and two contemporary military control groups. After exclusion of persons who had been deployed to a combat zone with a preexisting psychiatric diagnosis, the cumulative rate of post-OIF/-OEF mental disorders was 6.4%. All psychiatric conditions except post-traumatic stress disorder occurred at a lower rate in combat-deployed personnel than in personnel who were not deployed to a combat zone. The findings suggest that psychiatric disorders in Marines are diagnosed most frequently during the initial months of recruit training rather than after combat deployment. The disproportionate loss of psychologically unfit personnel early in training creates a "healthy warrior effect," because only those persons who have proven their resilience during training remain eligible for combat.

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