A recent survey of 1,200 Vietnam veterans headed up by researchers from U.C. San Francisco and the San Francisco VA Medical Center reports that soldiers who killed people during that combat have, on average, lived far more troubled lives in the ensuing decades than soldiers who did not.
Even when compared with fellow combat veterans -- not pencil pushers -- soldiers who reported taking others' lives had higher incidences of post-traumatic stress disorder, violent behavior, troubles with daily functioning, and myriad other psychological problems. And these problems have persisted for years.
"Killing, in a variety of ways, turns out to have a wide range of mental health and functioning impacts," said the study's lead author Dr. Shira Maugen, a staff psychologist at the San Francisco VA. The study was published in a recent edition of The Journal of Traumatic Stress
. "We knew [killing] would be important, but we were surprised at the extent to which the effects of being in combat faded in comparison."
Here's the study's methodology:
The researchers gleaned data collected 20 years ago for the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study of 1990 regarding 1,200 vets who served between 1964 and 1975. The current study separated the soldiers into two categories -- those who had killed others (or believed they had) in combat and those who did not. The 47 percent of soldiers who had killed others reported markedly higher incidences of PTSD, violent behaviors, and life troubles such as substance abuse and employment, relationship, and legal maladies.
With surveys indicating that perhaps 65 percent of soldiers returning from Iraq have killed an enemy combatant, the authors of the current study feel their work is highly relevant.
"It's very important to systematically assess and address the impact of
killing," says Maguen, "and to evaluate it in the most sensitive and
supportive way we can."