A new working paper (ungated version) by Jason M. Lindo and Charles F. Stoecker examines the link between military service (in Vietnam) and crime. It has some bad news: “We find that military service increases the probability of incarceration for violent crimes among whites, with point estimates suggesting an impact of 0.27 percentage points.” The authors also find offsetting impacts on nonviolent crime and hypothesize that “military service may not change an individual’s propensity to commit crime but instead may cause them to commit more-severe crimes involving violence.”
Lindo and Stoecker weren’t able to examine the effects of military service in more recent conflicts, but they express concerns:
[M]ultiple features of today’s military suggest that our results may be relevant today. The military has continued and escalated the use of highly realistic training simulations, a legacy of late-1960s efforts to desensitize soldiers to engaging with enemy combatants. For example, the military currently uses Iraqi nationals as role-players in training exercises in order to help cadets put a human face and picture on Iraqi society. In addition, the rates of post-traumatic stress disorder for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan (14 to 25 percent) are quite similar to the rates for those who served in the Vietnam War (18 to 20 percent).