The investigators, who also included researchers from the University of Illinois, St. Louis University, Boston University and Harvard Medical School, focused on several potential health problems. Those included hypertension, respiratory problems, skin conditions, gastrointestinal disorders, joint problems and hearing difficulty. Combat exerted the biggest influence on hearing.
"We know from previously published research that military personnel who have been exposed to loud artillery or combat noises end up having more hearing problems. Our study certainly supports this," Eisen said. "And the fact that our analyses found the expected results about the relationship between combat and hearing lends validity to our results with other health problems."
The only other health difficulty associated with combat involved the skin. Eisen is uncertain why combat veterans report a higher incidence of dermatologic problems, but he says it raises the issue that further study is needed.
The study also suggests to Eisen that if emotional distress from combat contributes to the development of physical illness in Vietnam veterans, it may be years before evidence of the link becomes clear. He suggests it would be worthwhile to survey the veterans again in a few years to evaluate both their psychological and their physical health status. He points to this summer's movie hit Saving Private Ryan as an example of the emotional impact of combat memories.
"Although the evidence is only anecdotal, when World War II
veterans spoke to the press about their response
Contact: Jim Dryden
Washington University School of Medicine