In the 1991 Gulf War less than 150 of nearly 700,000 deployed US troops were killed in action. Today, however, over 1 in 7 US veterans of the war has sought federal healthcare for related-health concerns, and fully 17% of UK Gulf War veterans describe themselves as suffering from the 'Gulf War syndrome', a set of poorly defined and heterogeneous ailments consisting mainly of chronic pain, fatigue, depression and other symptoms. Even though over 250 million dollars of federally funded medical research has failed to identify a unique syndrome, the debate regarding potential causes continues and has included oil well smoke, contagious infections, exposure to chemical and biological warfare agents, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Historical analyses completed since the Gulf War have found that postwar syndromes consisting of chronic pain, fatigue, depression and other symptoms have occurred after every war in the 20th century. These syndromes have gone by a variety of names such as Da Costa's syndrome, irritable heart, shell shock, neurocirculatory asthenia, and battle fatigue. Though the direct causes of these syndromes are typically elusive, it is clear that war sets in motion an undeniable cycle of physical, emotional, and fiscal consequences for war veterans and for society. These findings lead to important healthcare questions. Is there a way to prevent or mitigate subsequent postwar symptoms and associated depression and disability? We argue that while idiopathic symptoms are certain to occur following any war, a population-based approach to postwar healthcare can mitigate the impact of postwar syndromes and foster societal, military, and veteran trust. This article delineates the model, describes its epidemiological foundations, and details examples of how it is being adopted and improved as part of the system of care for US military personnel, war veterans and families. A scientific test of the model's overall effectiveness is difficult, yet healthcare systems for combatants and their families are already being put to pragmatic tests as troops return from war in Iraq and Afghanistan and from other military challenges.