Social and Behavioral Consequences of the Vietnam Experience among American Legionnaires

Stellman, Jeanne M.; Stellman, Steven D.; Sommer, Jr., John F.

One aspect of a cross-sectional questionnaire study of a sample of Vietnam veterans belonging to The American Legion was devoted to analysis of social and behavioral consequences of service in Southeast Asia. Members of the study population were stratified by whether they served in Southeast Asia and, within the Southeast Asia group, by varying degrees of exposure to combat and to herbicides. Using validated scales for behavioral affect and for the exposure measures for combat and herbicides, a wide range of adverse effects was observed. Men who faced high levels of combat intensity were found to be at greater risk for divorce and for generally being less happy and satisfied with their lives, their marriages, their role as fathers, and as sexual human beings. Although in this population they have reached comparatively high levels of education, they earn significantly less money than peers of their same age and educational attainment. Vietnam veterans returning from combat were found to exhibit higher levels of behavioral disturbances, with mean scores for depression, anxiety, irritation, feelings of helplessness, and physical signs of depression significantly worse than noncombat peers. The lifestyle of combat veterans also continues to place them at greater risk for poor health. They smoke, drink, and use prescription drugs at rates significantly greater than the other veterans in this study. Combat veterans have had a significantly poorer rate of reduction and cessation of smoking and drinking than others in this population. Evidence is also presented which shows that for some of the behavioral outcomes measured, a negative interactive effect of concurrent exposure to herbicides is present.



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Health Policy and Management
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August 14, 2014