Deadly Aftermath for Vietnam Veterans

By Bower, Bruce | Science News, February 21, 1987 | Go to article overview

Deadly Aftermath for Vietnam Veterans


Bower, Bruce, Science News


Deadly aftermath for Vietnam veterans

Vietnam combat veterans had a muchhigher death rate in the first five years out of the service than veterans who had served elsewhere in the same period, according to a study by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta. Violent deaths, including automobile accidents, suicides, homicides and drug overdoses, accounted for most of the difference.

This pattern is similar to that found inWorld War II and Korean War combat veterans, say the investigators in the Feb. 13 JOURNAL OF THE AMERICAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION. Unlike veterans of the two prior wars, however, Vietnam combat survivors had a persistent elevation of drug-related deaths that continued through the end of the study in December 1983.

The researchers conclude that "thepostservice excess of traumatic deaths among Vietnam veterans is probably due to unusual stresses endured while stationed in a hostile fire zone.' But the data do not clarify whether specific factors, such as exposure to the her-bicide Agent Orange, contracting infectious diseases in Vietnam, lack of support on returning home or suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, led to the increase in violent deaths.

The study compared postservicemortality rates of 9,324 Vietnam veterans with those of 8,989 veterans who served at the same time in Korea, West Germany and the United States. The Vietnam veterans had enlisted in infantry, armor, artillery or combat engineering units.

The researchers found a 45 percenthigher death rate among Vietnam veterans in the five years after discharge. In addition, the Vietnam group had 72 percent more suicides, 93 percent more automobile fatalities, and 69 percent more posioning deaths, mostly from drug overdoses. …

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