VA Health Care: Progress and Challenges in Conducting the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study

GAO-10-658T Published: May 05, 2010. Publicly Released: May 05, 2010.
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This testimony discusses the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study (NVVLS). According to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), experts estimate that up to 30 percent of Vietnam veterans have experienced post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), an anxiety disorder that can occur after a person is exposed to a life-threatening event. Veterans suffering from PTSD may experience problems sleeping, maintaining relationships, and returning to their previous civilian lives. Additionally, studies have shown that many veterans suffering from PTSD are more likely to be diagnosed with cardiovascular disease and other diseases. After the Vietnam War, Congress wanted information about the psychological effects of the war on Vietnam veterans to inform the need for PTSD services at VA. Consequently, in 1983, Congress mandated that VA provide for the conduct of a study on PTSD and related postwar psychological problems among Vietnam veterans. VA contracted with an external entity, the Research Triangle Institute, to conduct the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS). According to VA, the NVVRS was a landmark study and is the only nationally representative study of PTSD in Vietnam veterans. PTSD is an ongoing concern for Vietnam veterans, and today, Vietnam-era veterans still constitute the largest group of veterans receiving VA care for PTSD. Congress and others have been concerned about the continued prevalence of PTSD and VA's capacity to meet the needs of Vietnam veterans. In section 212 of the Veterans Benefits and Health Care Improvement Act of 2000, Congress required that VA contract with an appropriate entity to conduct a follow-up study to the NVVRS. The law specifies certain requirements that the follow-up study must meet, including that the study must use the database and sample of the NVVRS and be designed to yield information on the long-term effects of PTSD and whether particular subgroups were at greater risk of chronic or more severe problems with PTSD. In 2001, VA awarded another contract to the Research Triangle Institute to plan and conduct a follow-up study, the NVVLS. However, in 2003, before data collection for the study began, VA terminated the contract and the study was not completed. In September 2009, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs announced that the agency planned to award a new contract to an external entity to conduct the NVVLS.

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