Combat Experience and Emotional Health: Impairment and Resilience in Later Life


  • This article is based on a program of research on social change in the life course We are grateful for support from the National Institute of Mental Health through Grant MH 37809 (Glen H Elder, Jr, principal investigator), the Veterans Administration Merit Review Program (Elizabeth Clipp and Glen H Elder, Jr, co-principal investigators), and a Senior Scientist Award (MH 00567) to the first author We are indebted to Catherine Cross for her statistical assistance, to the Institute of Human Development (University of California, Berkeley) for permission to use archival data from its files, and to the Geriatric Research, Education, and Clinical Center at the Durham VA for its support of our work on military service in aging and health

should be directed to Glen H Elder, Jr, Carolina Population Center, University of North Carolina, CB #8120, University Square East, Chapel Hill, NC 27514


ABSTRACT War's influence on emotional health includes potential psychological gains as well as losses In a sample of 149 veterans from longitudinal samples at the Institute of Human Development, University of California, Berkeley, this study explores two questions on the legacy of combat in World War II and the Korean conflict The first concerns the subjective experience or meanings of combat that veterans hold in later life, with particular attention to how such accounts are linked to the seventy of combat and postwar adaptations The second question links these accounts to the psychosocial functioning of veterans before the war and in later life using reports from veterans and their spouses and Q-sort ratings in adolescence and at age 40 Findings center on veterans of heavy combat Compared to the noncombatants and light combat veterans, these men were at greater risk of emotional and behavioral problems in the postwar years In mid-life, they hold mixed memories of painful losses and life benefits associated with military experience. Clinical ratings show that heavy combat veterans became more resilient and less helpless over time when compared to other men As in the case of life events generally, short- and long- term effects may impair and enhance personal growth