Vietnam veterans who were heavily exposed to the herbicide Agent Orange show "clear physical effects" with rashes, fatty tumors and changes in skin color, according to a study released Friday.
The study, sponsored by the American Legion, said that combat veterans were also more likely to still be suffering from physical and psychological problems related to their war experiences.Based on interviews with 6,810 American Legion members from six states, the study found that many Vietnam veterans who took part in what was called "high combat" continue to suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.
"Left alone, PTSD does not abate," said American Legion National Commander H.F. Gierke in a news release. "There are thousands of Vietnam veterans who are living in America, but they are not living the American dream."
The findings are in a five-year study conducted by Steven D. Stellman of the New York City Department of Health and Jeanne Mager Stellman of Columbia University and published Friday in the scientific journal Environmental Research.
Of the veterans interviewed for the study, 42 percent, or 2,858, served in Southeast Asia. About 20 percent of this number were classified in the study as "high combat," which means they were involved frequently in active combat where people were being killed.
The study also found a correlation between high rates of exposure to the herbicide Agent Orange and some physical problems. These findings contradict studies conducted by the military in which physical complaints by Vietnam veterans were followed up with physical examinations at Veterans Administration hospitals. These federal studies found no correlation between Agent Orange exposure and ill health.
Overall, the American Legion study said, men who served in Southeast Asia had higher incidence of heart disease, benign fatty tumors, skin rash with blisters and an increased light sensitivity in the eyes.
Other findings reported in the study include:
-Veterans who experienced "high combat" were more apt to have high levels of depression, anxiety and physical symptoms of depression than those who saw little combat or did not serve in Southeast Asia.
-High combat veterans were more likely to be heavy smokers and drinkers and have a more difficult time reducing consumption. High combat veterans were twice as likely to take tranquilizers or sleeping pills, but illicit drug use was found to be very low.