• posttraumatic stress;
  • combat;
  • resilience;
  • injury;
  • mortality;
  • veteran


Background: To determine whether having received a Purple Heart (PH) or having been diagnosed with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) affected mortality in older veterans. Methods: We compared mortality rates of older veterans with a PH but without PTSD (PH+/PTSD−) to veterans with a PH and PTSD (PH+/PTSD+), veterans without a PH but with PTSD (PH−/PTSD+), and a comparison group without a PH or PTSD (PH−/PTSD−). Administrative data from the Veterans Integrated Service Network 16 were collected between 10/01/97 and 09/30/99 for veterans who were 65 years or older. Proportional hazards regression was used to compare the survival times for the four groups (n = 10,255) from entry into the study until death or study termination (9/30/2008). The Charleson co-morbidity index was used to control for potential co-morbid illness burden differences between the groups. Results: Older veterans with a PH (PH+/PTSD− and PH+/PTSD+) had significantly lower mortality rates than PH−/PTSD− veterans (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.6, 95% confidence interval [CI] 0.5 to 0.6, P<.0001; and HR = 0.5, 95% CI 0.4 to 0.7, P<.0001). The PH−/PTSD+ group had a higher mortality rate than the PH−/PTSD− group (HR = 1.1, 95% CI 1.0 to 1.2, P<.01). Conclusions: Veterans who had PH citations and survived into their seventh decade had half the mortality rate of veterans without PH citations with or without PTSD. Veterans with PTSD but without a PH had a significantly higher mortality rate compared to (PH−/PTSD−). Veterans who suffer combat injury without developing PTSD may provide a useful study population for determining the factors that confer resilience. Depression and Anxiety, 2011. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.