The Washington Post

Iraq and Afghanistan: The physical and mental toll, by the numbers

Air Force veteran Linda Stanley was among those on the Mall on Thursday to place 1,892 flags representing veterans and active service members who have committed suicide this year. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)

The 2.6 million Americans who volunteered to fight on IED-laden battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan have returned home with a panoply of problems borne out of their service. Consider the following from a newly released Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey:

  • 18 percent were seriously injured while performing their duties.
  • 34 percent say they have a service-connected disability.
  • 52 percent say their physical or mental health is worse than it was before the wars.
  • 41 percent report experiencing outbursts of anger, at least sometimes.
  • 51 percent know a service member who has attempted or committed suicide.
Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.
Washington Post-Kaiser Family Foundation survey of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans.

The breadth of difficulties reported by veterans is wider than traditional metrics of casualties and injuries, and those tapping the most acute injuries. A 2008 Rand Corp. study sponsored by the military estimated that 31 percent were suffering from post-traumatic stress, major depression or a traumatic brain injury.

The Post-Kaiser poll also finds the aftershocks are hobbling veterans’ efforts to get back to normal. Half of those who left the military say their transition was difficult, while half say it was easy. The complaints range the gamut from jobs to culture shock to seeking benefits from a Department of Veterans Affairs backlogged with requests. Rather than separate, four in 10 remained in the military, either on active duty or in the Reserves or the National Guard.

Despite the serious war scars, virtually all veterans associated with the wars say they would do it again, knowing what they know now. That includes active military members, Reservists, those who are detached and those who were seriously wounded in combat.

More from the Post-Kaiser survey:

For recent veterans, a legacy of pride and pain.

Key findings from the poll.

Interactive poll results and how the survey was conducted.

Peyton M. Craighill contributed to this report.


Scott Clement is the polling manager at The Washington Post, specializing in public opinion about politics, election campaigns and public policy.

The Freddie Gray case

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Campaign 2016 Email Updates

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!

Get Zika news by email

Please provide a valid email address.

You’re all set!
Show Comments

Sign up for email updates from the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

You have signed up for the "Confronting the Caliphate" series.

Thank you for signing up
You'll receive e-mail when new stories are published in this series.
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Close video player
Now Playing

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.