Carlos Gonzalez Alayon talks about the effects of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. The 67-year-old Vietnam War veteran of Merritt Island, Fla., said he had long suffered symptoms but didn't know their cause. It wasn't until another veteran, who had observed his actions, told him he should be checked that he sought help. / Craig Bailey, Florida Today
Scientists estimate that more than 283,000 Vietnam veterans - men and a few hundred women now beyond the age of retirement - still suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from their war experiences in Southeast Asia.
"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," said William Schlenger, a lead scientist on the study funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The findings, to be presented today at an American Psychological Association convention, are the result of revisiting in recent years thousands of Vietnam veterans who took part in a landmark 1980s-era study on combat-related PTSD.
Researchers calculate that about 16% of Vietnam veterans involved in the original 1986-1988 study have since died, primarily from illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. An analysis shows that the risk of early death is nearly twice as high among those men who were suffering PTSD, preliminary findings from the new study show.
The mental illness also was linked with other health problems such as cardiovascular disease and ailments of the back, knees or other joints.
The original study revealed the chronic nature of PTSD. About 30% of male veterans developed the illness, and by the late-1980s, half of them were still suffering from it.
This new analysis found that about 11% of Vietnam combat veterans today still deal with the intrusive nightmares and memories and the tendency toward isolation, numbness and anxiety that come with PTSD. About a third also suffer from major depression, the study found.
Researchers found that Vietnam veterans with PTSD had a much higher risk for an array of chronic health problems.
The original study was authorized by Congress in 1983 following a debate over the long-term effects of war between those who thought that the nation's 8.3 million Vietnam-era veterans had successfully adjusted to civilian life and those who suspected that many had not, according to an executive summary written in conjunction with the latest results.
The second research effort 25 years later, known as the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study, was launched in 2010. The average age of the veterans was 67.
Other findings from the current study:
â?¢ While the veterans reported high rates of alcohol abuse or dependency at some point during their lives, the current rates were quite low.
â?¢ Black and Hispanic Vietnam veterans were two to three times more likely than white veterans to develop combat-related PTSD.
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