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Army, Marines take brunt of war wounds

Army soldiers and Marine Corps members faced most of the combat in Iraq and Afghanistan and came home with more war wounds than others. A new article from Rajiv Chandrasekaran details these painful stories.

Overall, more than half of the military service members who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 returned from war in worse physical or mental health, according to the new Washington Post-Kaiser poll of military service members.

Fifty-two percent of Army soldiers reported worse physical health since the wars, with the Marines, Navy and Air Force each falling below 40 percent. An equal number of soldiers and Marines (39 percent each) reported worse mental and emotional health, far higher than the rates in the Navy (20 percent) or Air Force (16 percent).

Roughly eight in 10 Army and Marine veterans served on the ground in either country, while majorities in the Navy or Air Force did not.

The exposure to danger for Army and Marine veterans are self-evident — far more members of these two branches served in combat roles. But Marine Corps members represent the only service branch that reported equal levels of worsened physical and mental health.

More than seven in 10 Marines said they personally know a service member who attempted or committed suicide. That falls to about half for Army and Navy personnel and to less than four in 10 for Air Force members. There are a number of other, related reasons for the mental and emotional struggles among Marines:

  • 58 percent of Marine and Army veterans said they personally knew someone killed while performing their duties in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to a 2011 Pew Research Center poll of post-9/11 military veterans. That compared with fewer than four in 10 in the other military branches who knew someone killed.
  • About half of Marines (48 percent) and Army veterans (52 percent) said they experienced an “emotionally traumatic” incident in the wars, also from the Pew poll. That compares with about one-third of those in other branches.
  • 38 percent of Marines said they did something in the wars that made them “feel guilty,” according to the Post-Kaiser poll. Those feelings of guilt are 27 percent for Army soldiers, 19 percent in the Navy and 16 percent in the Air Force.
  • 57 percent of Marines said they often feel that civilians don’t understand their war experiences, as do 44 percent for the Army. Fewer than one-third in the Air Force or Navy say this.

Despite these sobering numbers, 91 percent of Marines said their mental and emotional needs are being met at least “somewhat well” today, 10 points higher than said the same about their physical health needs.

The Pew Research survey interviewed a random national sample of 712 veterans who separated from the military after September 2001, including 279 who served in the Army, 149 in the Navy, 155 in the Air Force and 103 in the Marines.

The Post-Kaiser poll interviewed a random national sample of 819 adults who served in Iraq or Afghanistan since September 11, 2001, including 441 in the Army, 123 in the Navy, 160 in the Air Force and 88 in the Marines.  The results from the full survey have a margin of sampling error of plus or minus five percentage points, seven points for those in the Army, 12 points for Navy, 11 points for Air Force and 14 points for Marines.

 Scott Clement contributed to this report. 

NOTE: This post has been updated to include sample size details for the Post-Kaiser poll. It also updates the fact that less than four in 10 Air Force members know a service member who has attempted or committed suicide and that fewer than half of Navy or Air Force members served on the ground in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Peyton M. Craighill is polling manager for the Washington Post. Peyton reports and conducts national and regional news polls for the Washington Post, with a focus on politics, elections and other social and economic issues.



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