CDC: Military Veterans Report Poorer Health

Disparities More Pronounced Beginning at Age 45

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 01, 2012
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 2, 2012 -- Men who served in the military carry a heavier health burden than non-veterans. According to a CDC report released today, veterans are significantly more likely to have two or more chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure, as well as other health problems.

Nearly 1 in 5 vets between the ages of 45 and 54 reported at least two chronic conditions compared to less than 15% of non-veterans. Close to 1 in 3 former service members who are 55 to 64 said they had more than one chronic disease compared to one-quarter of men who never served.

"The effects of military service on physical and psychological health, especially after extended overseas deployments, are complex," write the researchers. "There may also be long-term consequences of military service for the health and health care utilization of veterans as they age."

The report was produced by the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the CDC. It draws on data from the 2007-2010 National Health Interview Survey, and it covers veterans aged 25 to 64, directly comparing their health with that of non-veterans.

"Overall," the researchers write, "veterans aged 25-64 appear to be in poorer health than non-veterans, although not all differences in health are significant for all age groups."

Age Differences and Health

While younger veterans -- those aged 25 to 34 -- showed few differences with their non-veteran counterparts, some significant disparities appear as they get older.

"The health differences that appear at older ages suggest that the effects of military service on health may appear later in life," the researchers write.

Starting at age 35, veterans report having more work problems related to physical, mental, or emotional issues. As a group, 18% of veterans report that such problems limit the type or amount of work they can do, compared to 10% of non-veterans. This was especially pronounced among vets between the ages of 45 and 54.

Veterans in that latter age group were also more likely to report other serious health problems. While veterans in general described their health as fair or poor more often than men who never served (16% compared to 10%), those between 45 and 54 were the most likely to do so.

Psychological Distress

Serious psychological distress also struck 45- to 54-year-old veterans with greater frequency than other age groups. They were the only age group to report significantly higher amounts of such distress -- defined by the researchers' as "unspecified but potentially diagnosable mental illness" -- compared to non-veterans.

The researchers note that this report only considers "people with the most severe psychological distress. Other measures of mental health that capture a wider range of mental disorders might show more differences between veterans and non-veterans."

Nearly 9 out of 10 surveyed men who served in the military carry health insurance. That's significantly higher than non-veterans, and, the authors write, it "may influence their access to health care and the likelihood of being diagnosed with various conditions."

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National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief: "The Health of Male Veterans and Nonveterans Aged 25-64: United States, 2007-2010."

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