Study confirms higher prevalence of some health conditions for Vietnam veterans and their children

Vietnam veterans and their children are more likely to have some health conditions than the general population, according to a study released today by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) and the Department of Veterans' Affairs (DVA).

The study shows that Vietnam veterans have higher levels of prostate cancer and the skin cancer melanoma.

Their children (most aged between 20 and 40 years) have three times the prevalence of suicides-and deaths due to accidents or illness were significantly more common than in the general population. The children also had a significantly higher than expected prevalence of spina bifida and cleft lip/palate.

The Vietnam Veterans Validation Study 1998-1999 was commissioned by DVA and conducted by the AIHW.

The aim of the study was to medically confirm a range of selected conditions reported by veterans about themselves and their children, and to compare their prevalence to the levels estimated for the Australian community. The study followed up medical reports with the permission of 6,842 veterans and 3,629 of their children. The study was not required to investigate the possible causes of these conditions in Vietnam veterans and their families.

Other important results for the veteran community include:

  • There was little difference between veterans and the community in the prevalence of colorectal, breast and eye cancer, non-Hodgkins lymphoma and leukaemia.
  • Lung cancer, soft tissue carcinoma and testis cancer have a lower prevalence in veterans than in the community generally.
  • There was little difference between veterans' children and the community in prevalence of Wilm's tumour and anencephaly.
  • Leukaemia, cancer of the nervous system, other cancers, Down syndrome, tracheo-oesophageal fistula and absent body parts all showed significantly lower prevalence in veterans' children than in the community generally.

The report recommends that a similar follow up of motor neurone disease and multiple sclerosis in Vietnam veterans be undertaken as a matter of urgency (this was not possible within the current study).

It also recommends that suicide in veterans' children be further investigated and the results drawn to the attention of the Vietnam Veterans Counselling Service.

3 December 1999


Further information: Dr Paul Jelfs, AIHW, ph. 02 6244 1140.
Media contact: Michelle Wells, AIHW, ph. 02 6244 1012.
For media copies of the report: Publications Officer, ph. 02 6244 1032.
Availability: Check the AIHW for details.