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Delving into deaths of Vietnam vets

Diane Lake of East Northport touches the Calverton

Diane Lake of East Northport touches the Calverton gravestone of her husband, Robert Lake, a Vietnam veteran who died of cancer at age 65. Photo Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa

It's easy to believe the things we experience represent larger truths. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don't. Hard data can tell us the reality.

There is a sense among some Vietnam veterans, their families and advocates that these vets are dying younger than the general population. There's no real data to address that, although a study on the health impacts of the war should be complete in three years.

We are now about 40 years past the height of our involvement in Vietnam. The average American serving there was 19. That means the vast majority of Vietnam veterans are not yet 65.

So, yes, practically every Vietnam veteran who dies does so at a young and shocking age, because none of them have been around long enough to have lived to a ripe old age. It's easy to think: "Jimmy was just 61 when he died, and then Danny at 59, and now Al, only 62. Why are Vietnam vets dying so young?"

And Vietnam vets could be suffering the consequences of the same behavior as the general population, but in greater percentages. They may be smoking, eating worse, exercising less or avoiding doctors more than the societal average.

That doesn't mean service in Vietnam isn't an indicator that you face a higher risk of dying young. We don't have enough data yet to tell.

But getting the facts ought to come before the outcry does. hN


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