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Postservice Mortality Among Vietnam Veterans

In 1987, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) compared the postservice mortality (through December 1983) of a group of 9,324 U.S. Army veterans who served in Vietnam with that of 8,989 Vietnam-era veterans who served in Korea, Germany, or the United States. Over the entire follow-up period, the total death rate for Vietnam veterans was 17% higher than for other veterans. The excess mortality, especially through motor vehicle accidents, suicide, homicide, and accidental poisonings, occurred mainly in the first 5 years after discharge from active duty and involved. Thereafter, mortality among Vietnam veterans was similar to that of other Vietnam-era veterans, except for drug-related deaths, which continued to be elevated. The excess in postservice deaths due to external causes among Vietnam veterans is similar to that found among men returning from combat areas after World War II and the Korean War.

In 2004, an update of the 1987 mortality study was published. This follow-up study further assessed the health effects of the Vietnam experience on cause-specific mortality, especially chronic conditions. It compared mortality rates between Vietnam veterans and veterans who did not serve in Vietnam. Vital status and underlying cause of death were retrospectively ascertained from the end of the original study in 1983 through 2000. Data were analyzed using Cox proportional hazards regression to factor in the effects of multiple risk factors on survival. Death from all causes was slightly higher among Vietnam veterans than non-Vietnam veterans over the entire follow-up period. Despite the increasing age of the study group (mean = 53 years) and longer follow-up period (average 30 years), death rates from disease-related conditions, including cancers and circulatory system diseases, did not differ between Vietnam veterans and their peers. Vietnam veterans continued to experience higher mortality than non-Vietnam veterans from unintentional poisonings and drug-related causes.

Publications

Postservice Mortality among Vietnam Veterans
This report presents results of the mortality component of the Vietnam Experience Study (VES).

The Centers for Disease Control Vietnam Experience Study. Postservice mortality among Vietnam veterans. Journal of the American Medical Association 1987;257:790–5.

Catlin TK, Flanders WD, McGeehin MA, Boyle CA, Barrett DH. Postservice mortality among Vietnam veterans: 30-year follow-up. Archives of Internal Medicine 2004;164:1908–16.

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  • Page last reviewed: October 29, 2010
  • Page last updated: October 29, 2010
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