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Psychological Costs of War
May 28, 2011 7:04 PM   Subscribe

New working paper by three economists estimates the psychological costs of war at between $1.5 and $2.7 billion.

A relatively new working paper by Resul Cesar (UConn and Georgia State University), Joseph Sabia (San Diego State and United States Military Academy) and Erdal Tekin (Georgia State University) attempt to answer two questions. First, does exposure to military violence of various types cause psychological harm, or is it merely some type of endogenous correlation? And secondly, if so, what is the estimated mental health costs of war? Better to just post the abstract than summarize:

Abstract: While descriptive evidence suggests that deployment in the Global War on Terrorism is associated with adverse mental health, the causal effect of combat is not well established. Using data drawn from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, we exploit exogenous variation in deployment assignment and find that soldiers deployed to combat zones where they engage in frequent enemy firefight or witness allied or civilian deaths are at substantially increased risk for suicidal ideation, psychological counseling, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Our estimates imply lower-bound health care costs of $1.5 to $2.7 billion for combat-induced PTSD.
posted by scunning (10 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

Does it make me optimistic or pessimistic when I say that if someone had asked me to take a wild guess, I would have guessed much, much higher?
posted by chimaera at 7:20 PM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

The FPP was a bit unclear above the fold, although you clarified in inside. You mean psychological treatment costs for soldiers' PTSD (or they mean that). The psychological costs of war are far higher than all the money in the world could ever fix.

And yeah, it's traumatizing to see civilians and friends killed. Imagine the trauma to civilian populations. What's the cost of a child who sees his mother killed as collateral damage and who thus grows up to become a suicide bomber? What's the cost to a mother who sees her child killed and loses all interest in living?

Not to diminish the horrors of PTSD for soldiers, but the phrase "the psychological costs of war" means a lot more than that to me.
posted by fourcheesemac at 7:36 PM on May 28, 2011 [7 favorites]

Yes - thank you. Psychological treatment costs for PTSD too in particular. It is the lower bound estimate.
posted by scunning at 7:37 PM on May 28, 2011

Yeah, this is just the cost to the VA. A bargain by war cost standards.
posted by 3.2.3 at 7:48 PM on May 28, 2011

That's still low. The guys I know have all been there, and are all convinced there needs to be more available. The stigma is declining, and they are starting to treat it as part of the job.
posted by dglynn at 8:42 PM on May 28, 2011

Cheap! We'll take two!
Oh, already?
posted by ryanrs at 9:25 PM on May 28, 2011 [2 favorites]

Um... yeah specifying the lower bound of healthcare costs at 2.7 billion is disingenuous without an upper bound. Heck, even ballparking the upper bound at a trillion, I might find their findings remotely accurate... but only stating a billion in healthcare costs seems to state that the federal government would not only have no excuse for PTSD, but that it was a remarkably controlled cost and easily handled.

Stating this number as a lower bound is so dismally low that calling it inaccurate is an understatement of epic proportions...
posted by Nanukthedog at 9:42 PM on May 28, 2011 [1 favorite]

Nanukthedog - disingenuous? That's ridiculous. Their methodology is transparent and useful for establishing causality first which is not a trivial matter to say the least. It's very well possible that there endogeneity problems associated with finding military service to be associated with mental health demand since the military is voluntary, making any association possibly due to self-selection among other things. That alone makes this a valuable contribution. But knowing that for instant for just one mental disorder (PTSD) the external costs are at least $2 billion.

Because a paper cannot do quantify every single cost it shouldn't quantify one cost? That's stupid. You do what you can with the best data you have, and move forward as much as is feasible now. That is how it works. This is a far better way do guiding policy decisions than just having nothing at all.
posted by scunning at 10:06 PM on May 28, 2011

My immediate reaction:

WOW... that's a lot of money per person... Only Bill Gates could take care of that much for his immediate family.... of course in a few years, we'll be paying $1000,000,000 for a cheeseburger thanks to QE11, QE12, etc.

Why? Because the war is costing TRILLIONS, and obviously it couldn't be that low for everyone, so it had to be a per-person cost. ;-)
posted by MikeWarot at 10:16 PM on May 28, 2011

I'm almost 100% sure that estimate is very low.
posted by nanojath at 1:38 AM on May 29, 2011

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