HealthViEWS: Mortality study of female US Vietnam era veterans, 1965-2010
We conducted a retrospective study among 4,734 women who served in the US military in Vietnam (Vietnam cohort), 2,062 women who served in countries near Vietnam (near-Vietnam cohort), and 5,313 nondeployed US military women (US cohort) to evaluate the associations of mortality outcomes with Vietnam War service. Veterans were identified from military records and followed for 40 years through December 31, 2010. Information on underlying causes of death was obtained from death certificates and the National Death Index. Based on 2,743 deaths, all 3 veteran cohorts had lower mortality risk from all causes combined and from several major causes, such as diabetes mellitus, heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and nervous system disease relative to comparable US women. However, excess deaths from motor vehicle accidents were observed in the Vietnam cohort (standardized mortality ratio = 3.67, 95% confidence interval (CI): 2.30, 5.56) and in the US cohort (standardized mortality ratio = 1.91, 95% CI: 1.02, 3.27). More than two-thirds of women in the study were military nurses. Nurses in the Vietnam cohort had a 2-fold higher risk of pancreatic cancer death (adjusted relative risk = 2.07, 95% CI: 1.00, 4.25) and an almost 5-fold higher risk of brain cancer death compared with nurses in the US cohort (adjusted relative risk = 4.61, 95% CI: 1.27, 16.83). Findings of all-cause and motor vehicle accident deaths among female Vietnam veterans were consistent with patterns of postwar mortality risk among other war veterans.
Available from: Julie C Weitlauf
- "Because of the age of women at the time of enrollment into WHI, there is likely an inherent selection bias that favors survival of non-Veterans, compared with what may have been found if women were examined at an earlier life stage. Studies that have examined women at an earlier life stage found a higher mortality rate among non- Veterans prior to age 50 (Kang et al., 2014). However, there is a health selection bias into the military, so the current study's age-related selection bias may have created cohorts that are more appropriately comparable. "
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ABSTRACT: Purpose of the Study:
Women’s military roles, exposures, and associated health outcomes have changed over time. However, mortality risk—within military generations or compared with non-Veteran women—has not been assessed. Using data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), we examined all-cause and cause-specific mortality by Veteran status and military generation among older women.
Design and Methods:
WHI participants (3,719 Veterans; 141,802 non-Veterans), followed for a mean of 15.2 years, were categorized into pre-Vietnam or Vietnam/after generations based on their birth cohort. We used cox proportional hazards models to examine the association between Veteran status and mortality by generation.
After adjusting for sociodemographic characteristics and WHI study arm, all-cause mortality hazard rate ratios (HRs) for Veterans relative to non-Veterans were 1.16 (95% CI: 1.09–1.23) for pre-Vietnam and 1.16 (95% CI: 0.99–1.36) for Vietnam/after generations. With additional adjustment for health behaviors and risk factors, this excess mortality rate persisted for pre-Vietnam but attenuated for Vietnam/after generations. After further adjustment for medical morbidities, across both generations, Veterans and non-Veterans had similar all-cause mortality rates. Relative to non-Veterans, adjusting for sociodemographics and WHI study arm, pre-Vietnam generation Veterans had higher cancer, cardiovascular, and trauma-related morality rates; Vietnam/after generation Veterans had the highest trauma-related mortality rates (HR = 2.93, 1.64–5.23).
Veterans’ higher all-cause mortality rates were limited to the pre-Vietnam generation, consistent with diminution of the healthy soldier effect over the life course. Mechanisms underlying Vietnam/after generation Veteran trauma-related mortality should be elucidated. Efforts to modify salient health risk behaviors specific to each military generation are needed.
Available from: Jodie G. Katon
- "Prior population-based studies have consistently documented decreased risk of morbidity and all-cause mortality among veterans, including women, relative to the general population (Cypel & Kang, 2008; Dalager et al., 1995; Kang et al., 2014; Thomas et al., 1991; Vajdic et al., 2014; Waller & McGuire, 2011; Yi, 2013). This " healthy soldier effect, " typically documented in young to middle-aged veterans, is commonly ascribed to the health and fitness standards associated with military selection, as well as the increased commitment to physical fitness among military populations, and the continuous access to health care that military and veteran populations enjoy (see Kang & Bullman, 1996; McLaughlin et al., 2008). "
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The health of postmenopausal women veterans is a neglected area of study. A stronger empirical evidence base is needed, and would inform the provision of health care for the nearly 1 million U.S. women veterans currently 50 years of age or older. To this end, the present work compares salient health outcomes and risk of all-cause mortality among veteran and non-veteran participants of the Women's Health Initiative (WHI).
This study features prospective analysis of long-term health outcomes and mortality risk (average follow-up, 8 years) among the 3,706 women veterans and 141,009 non-veterans who participated in the WHI Observational Study or Clinical Trials. Outcome measurements included confirmed incident cases of cardiovascular disease (CVD), cancer, diabetes, hip fractures, and all-cause mortality.
We identified 17,968 cases of CVD, 19,152 cases of cancer, 18,718 cases of diabetes, 2,817 cases of hip fracture, and 13,747 deaths. In Cox regression models adjusted for age, sociodemographic variables, and health risk factors, veteran status was associated with significantly increased risk of all-cause mortality (hazard ratio [HR], 1.13; 95% CI, 1.03-1.23), but not with risk of CVD (HR, 1.00; 95% CI, 0.90-1.11), cancer (HR, 1.04; 95% CI, 0.95-1.14), hip fracture (HR, 1.16; 95% CI, 0.94-1.43), or diabetes (HR, 1.00; 95% CI, 0.89-1.1).
Women veterans' postmenopausal health, particularly risk for all-cause mortality, warrants further consideration. In particular, efforts to identify and address modifiable risk factors associated with all-cause mortality are needed.
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ABSTRACT: This study examined gender differences in the impact of warfare exposure on self-reported physical health.
Data are from the 2010 National Survey of Veterans, a nationally representative survey of veterans from multiple eras of service. Regression analyses assessed gender differences in the association between warfare exposure (deployment to a war zone, exposure to casualties) and health status and functional impairment, adjusting for sociodemographics.
Women reported better health status but greater functional impairment than men. Among men, those who experienced casualties only or both casualties and deployment to a war zone had worse health compared with those who experienced neither stressor or deployment to a war zone only. Among women, those who experienced casualties only or both stressors reported worse health than those who experienced war zone only, who did not differ from the unexposed. No association was found between warfare exposure and functional impairment in women; in men, however, those who experienced exposure to casualties or both stressors had greater odds of functional impairment compared with those who experienced war zone only or neither stressor.
Exposure to casualties may be more predictive of health than deployment to a war zone, especially for men. We did not find a stronger association between warfare exposure and health for women than men. Given that the expansion of women's military roles has allowed them to serve in direct combat, their degree and scope of warfare exposure is likely to increase in the future.
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