Health of Gulf War Veterans Worsened in 10-Year Study
Since the 1991 Gulf War, initial concerns regarding health consequences of participation in the war have turned to requests for longitudinal evaluation of how the health of Gulf War Veterans has changed over time. To help in this evaluation, investigators conducted health surveys of deployed and non-deployed Gulf War-era Veterans in 1995 and again in 2005. The 1995 National Health Survey of Gulf War Veterans and Their Families surveyed a 30,000 member panel of deployed and non-deployed Veterans, with 20,917 participants. For the 10-year follow-up in 2005, investigators surveyed all living members of the original panel, resulting in a total of 8,822 Veterans (5,469 deployed; 3,353 non-deployed) who participated in both health surveys. Investigators then estimated the prevalence of adverse health outcomes for seven health indices (functional impairment, limitation of activities, repeated clinic visits, recurrent hospitalizations, perceived health, chronic fatigue, and PTSD) and five chronic diseases (arthritis, hypertension, asthma, coronary heart disease, and diabetes), comparing changes over time between deployed and non-deployed Veterans. Investigators also assessed Veterans’ demographics.
- The health of deployed Gulf War Veterans worsened during the 10-year period from 1995 to 2005 in comparison with non-deployed Gulf War Veterans. Perceived health of fair or poor was more likely to persist among deployed Veterans, and relatively more deployed Veterans reported that their health status had worsened over the 10-year follow-up.
- Deployed Veterans were less likely to recover from any prior functional impairment, limitation of activities, or PTSD that they had in 1995 – and were more likely to report new onset of these adverse health outcomes in 2005 compared with non-deployed Veterans.
- Significantly higher proportions of deployed Veterans reported new onset of arthritis, hypertension, or coronary heart disease in 2005 compared to non-deployed Veterans.
- Over the 10-year period, 45% of deployed Veterans with PTSD recovered, but 9% of deployed Veterans developed the condition. The prevalence of PTSD among deployed Veterans in 2005 was 14%, compared to 4% among non-deployed Veterans.
- Authors note that the extent to which any of the health problems experienced by Gulf War Veterans were due to the effects of military service in the Gulf War is difficult to determine.
- A low response rate (34%) for the 2005 survey may have introduced selection bias.
This study was funded by VA and the DoD. Dr. Eisen is Director of VA’s HSR&D Service.
Li B, Mahan C, Kang H, Eisen S, and Engel C. Longitudinal Health Study of U.S. 1991 Gulf War Veterans: Changes in Health Status at 10-Year Follow-Up. American Journal of Epidemiology October 1, 2011;174(7):761-68.