A systematic review of post-deployment injury-related mortality among military personnel deployed to conflict zones

BMC Public Health. 2009 Jul 13;9:231. doi: 10.1186/1471-2458-9-231.


Background: This paper reports on a systematic review of the literature on the post-conflict injury-related mortality of service members who deployed to conflict zones.

Methods: Literature databases, reference lists of articles, agencies, investigators, and other sources were examined to find studies comparing injury-related mortality of military veterans who had served in conflict zones with that of contemporary veterans who had not served in conflict zones. Injury-related mortality was defined as a cause of death indicated by International Classification of Diseases E-codes E800 to E999 (external causes) or subgroupings within this range of codes.

Results: Twenty studies met the review criteria; all involved veterans serving during either the Vietnam or Persian Gulf conflict. Meta-analysis indicated that, compared with non-conflict-zone veterans, injury-related mortality was elevated for veterans serving in Vietnam (summary mortality rate ratio (SMRR) = 1.26, 95% confidence interval (95%CI) = 1.08-1.46) during 9 to 18 years of follow-up. Similarly, injury-related mortality was elevated for veterans serving in the Persian Gulf War (SMRR = 1.26, 95%CI = 1.16-1.37) during 3 to 8 years of follow-up. Much of the excess mortality among conflict-zone veterans was associated with motor vehicle events. The excess mortality decreased over time. Hypotheses to account for the excess mortality in conflict-zone veterans included post-traumatic stress, coping behaviors such as substance abuse, ill-defined diseases and symptoms, lower survivability in injury events due to conflict-zone comorbidities, altered perceptions of risk, and/or selection processes leading to the deployment of individuals who were risk-takers.

Conclusion: Further research on the etiology of the excess mortality in conflict-zone veterans is warranted to develop appropriate interventions.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cause of Death
  • Humans
  • Military Personnel*
  • Veterans*
  • Warfare*
  • Wounds and Injuries / mortality*