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Impact of war on veteran life span: natural experiment involving combat versus non-combat exposed military personnel
  1. Nick Wilson1,
  2. C Clement2,
  3. J A Summers1,
  4. G Thomson1 and
  5. G Harper1
  1. 1Department of Public Health, University of Otago Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand
  2. 2Independent researcher, Te Puke, New Zealand
  1. Correspondence to Professor Nick Wilson, Public Health, University of Otago Wellington, Wellington, New Zealand; nick.wilson{at}


Introduction There is still uncertainty around the impact of combat exposure on the life span of war veterans. Therefore we made use of a natural experiment to study the impact on veteran life span of combat versus non-combat exposure in World War II (WW2).

Methods The combat-exposed military personnel were derived from a random (10%) sample of the military roll of the 28th (Māori) Battalion from New Zealand. One non-combat cohort was the 15th Reinforcements of this same Battalion, since the war ended before they reached the front line. The other non-combat cohort were Māori personnel who were only involved in Jayforce, which occupied Japan at the end of the WW2. Data on life span were mainly derived from an official repository of birth and death records, but supplemented with other sources, including military files.

Results When comparing life spans of service veterans, there was no statistically significant reduction for the average life span of the 234 combat-exposed veterans in our sample from the 28th (Māori) Battalion (66.7 years), relative to the Māori veterans from two non-combat cohorts: the 132 personnel in the 15th Reinforcements (67.2 years) and the 147 personnel in Jayforce (66.9 years).

Conclusions Despite a very high level of wounding in the combat-exposed group (48%), there were no statistically significant reductions in life span between this group and comparable non-combat exposed veterans. This finding contrasts to life span reductions found in a similar study of New Zealand veterans of WW1.

  • epidemiology
  • occupational & industrial medicine
  • public health
  • adult psychiatry

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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  • Contributors NW conceived the idea and managed the project. CC and NW gathered and processed the appropriate data. NW conducted the analyses and wrote the first draft. All authors contributed to interpretation and revising multiple drafts of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Supplemental material This content has been supplied by the author(s). It has not been vetted by BMJ Publishing Group Limited (BMJ) and may not have been peer-reviewed. Any opinions or recommendations discussed are solely those of the author(s) and are not endorsed by BMJ. BMJ disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on the content. Where the content includes any translated material, BMJ does not warrant the accuracy and reliability of the translations (including but not limited to local regulations, clinical guidelines, terminology, drug names and drug dosages), and is not responsible for any error and/or omissions arising from translation and adaptation or otherwise.