In the 60 years since he was wounded at war, Ruben Campos has lived a happy, healthy life in Tucson.

The Department of Veterans Affairs wants to know why.

The VA is taking a closer look at veterans like Campos, 81, after recent medical research showed a link between war wounds and increased longevity.

Aging veterans who, in their youths, earned Purple Hearts -awarded to troops wounded in action - substantially outlived their military peers who didn't receive the medal, the study found.

VA researchers tracked more than 10,000 veterans of World War II and Korea from the late 1990s until 2008, cross-referencing their death rates and medals data.

At the end of the study period, "those with Purple Heart citations had half the mortality rate of those without," said a recent news release from the VA. The results held true regardless of whether the veterans had post-traumatic stress disorder, it said.

If further research can figure out why, it could help later generations of war veterans, it added.

"War-wounded veterans who survive into later life - especially those who do not develop PTSD - may provide valuable clues as to the factors that lead to resilience to combat stress," the VA said.

The Tucson area is home to hundreds of combat-wounded veterans.

About 200 of them, including Campos, belong to the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, where members range in age from their 20s to their 90s.

Campos, a former Army paratrooper wounded by mortar fire in Korea in 1951, is mystified by the VA findings.

"It seems odd," he said, adding his own secrets to good living are pretty simple.

He and wife Rose have three kids and three grandchildren. He gets medical care from the VA in Tucson, goes to church and spends some of his time helping others, for example, by assisting with food deliveries to the needy.

The former maintenance worker with Tucson Unified School District said he's been relatively healthy all his life.

David Alegria, who leads the local Purple Heart chapter, also was puzzled by the VA study.

He wonders if increased longevity might be due to wounded veterans' paying closer attention to their health as they age.

Whatever the reason, he said, if Purple Heart veterans are living longer, "It's good news."

Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at or at 573-4138.