Disposition of the Air Force Health Study

Type: Consensus Study
Topics: Military and Veterans Health
Board: Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice

Activity Description

The Air Force Health Study (AFHS)---popularly known as the Ranch Hand Study---is a long-term epidemiologic study of Air Force personnel who were responsible for conducting aerial spray missions of herbicides during the Vietnam era.  Over the course of this study, participants have undergone repeated, detailed physical examinations, including the collection of multiple biologic samples. The AFHS, which was initiated in the late 1970's, is presently scheduled to conclude in 2006.

The US Department of Veterans Affairs, under a congressional mandate, requested that the Institute of Medicine address the future of the AFHS.  The IOM study addressed the following issues:

  1. The scientific merit of retaining and maintaining the medical records, other data, and laboratory specimens collected in the course of the AFHS.
  2. Whether or not any obstacles exist to retaining and maintaining these medical records, other study data, and laboratory specimens, including privacy concerns.
  3. The advisability of providing independent oversight of the medical records, other data, and laboratory specimens, and of any further study of such records, data and specimens, and, if so, the mechanism for providing such oversight.
  4. The advisability of extending the study, including the potential value and relevance of its extension, the potential cost of extension, and the Federal or non-Federal entity best suited to continue the study if extended.
  5. The advisability of making the laboratory specimens of the study available for independent research, including the potential value and relevance of such research, and the potential cost of such research.

The committee's final report was released in February 2006.

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