CAMBRIDGE, Mass. Veterans who served in the Vietnam War and who developed Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) are at greater risk of heart disease and other chronic diseases and have a nearly two times higher risk of death than veterans not suffering with PTSD, according to preliminary findings of the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study.
The study was outlined Aug. 8 by Abt Associates' researchers at the American Psychological Association Convention in Washington, D.C.
Abt Associates scientists Dr. William Schlenger, Dr. Nida Corry, and Dr. Norah Mulvaney-Day presented initial findings of the study conducted for Congress and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs in partnership with NYU Langone Medical Centers Department of Psychiatry.
The NVVLS is a follow-up of a previous study of the impact of military service on mental and physical health outcomes among Vietnam Veterans the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS) completed 25 years ago.
As of April 2011, the study team found that 16 percent of the Vietnam veterans who were alive in the late 1980s had died before the NVVLS began.
Analyses of information from death records and from assessments made in the NVVRS revealed that among male Vietnam veterans who served in the Vietnam war, those who had warzone PTSD were nearly twice as likely to die in the 25 years between the two studies than those who did not, even after accounting for demographic factors such as sex and ethnicity, according to Corry. Further, PTSD was associated with increased mortality due to cancer and external causes of death, Corry said.
For the majority of veterans who served in the Vietnam War, PTSD symptomatology was found to be stable over the course of the past 25 years. However, 13 percent reported substantial increases in PTSD symptoms and 4.6 percent reported decreased symptomatology. These findings suggest that for a notable group of veterans, PTSD symptoms are chronic and long-lasting and that particular groups of veterans may be at elevated risk of developing PTSD.
"While the NVVLS paints a disturbing portrait of the course of PTSD and its long-term medical consequences for a significant number of service members exposed to warzone stress, the NVVLS helps us better understand the costs of war and provides empirical data from which to base policy and treatment decisions to meet the needs of veterans of Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and of future wars," Schlenger, who led the study, told the symposium attendees.
Among other findings, Vietnam veterans reported developing multiple chronic health conditions over the course of the past 25 years. Schlenger explained that "for warzone veterans, PTSD is associated with increased risk for multiple chronic health conditions, including cardiovascular diseases, nervous system disorders, and musculoskeletal disorders."
Study findings also showed higher rates of recent VA outpatient service utilization for physical health concerns among male and female Vietnam veterans with PTSD compared to those without PTSD.
"Male warzone veterans with PTSD also are very likely to talk about behavioral health concerns during these visits, compared to those without PTSD," according to Mulvaney-Day.
Summarizing the findings, Schlenger said "The study's key takeaway is that for some, PTSD is not going away. It is chronic and prolonged, and for veterans with PTSD, the war is not over."