Mortality of former prisoners of war and other Australian veterans

Med J Aust. 1992 Jul 20;157(2):132-5.


Objective: This second summary article from an epidemiological review of the health of former prisoners of war (POWs) and other Australian veterans, commissioned by the Sir Edward Dunlop Medical Research Foundation, reports on studies of mortality.

Data sources: The MEDLARS database, from 1966 to the present, under the terms military personnel, veterans, veterans' disability claims, combat disorders and prisoners (matched against war); databases of the Department of Veterans' Affairs (Victoria) and the Central Library, Commonwealth Department of Defense, under the term "prisoner of war"; and the microfiche listings of the Department of Veterans' Affairs, under "prisoner of war" and "repatriation". Only studies in English or French were reviewed, reaching a total of 172.

Study selection: Four studies in this paper constitute the main evidence about postwar mortality in Australians who were POWs of World War II or Vietnam veterans. Other mortality studies are cited in the complete literature review published elsewhere.

Data extraction: Only the data with an epidemiological basis are considered here.

Data synthesis: All-cause mortality rates were no greater in former POWs or Vietnam veterans than in the general Australian male population. There was, however, evidence of increased mortality among former POWs compared with other non-POW veterans, and among Vietnam veterans in one particular corps compared with veterans of the same era who served in Australia.

Conclusions: Elevated early postwar mortality of young former POWs implicates diseases with short latent periods (including psychiatric disorders). This is consistent with the greater health risks of this group of survivors that were identified in the earlier review of morbidity. Mortality among former POWs and other veterans requires continued surveillance because a "healthy worker effect" (or exclusion of unfit persons from the armed forces) may partly conceal increased morbidity or mortality that should be attributed to war service.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Asia, Southeastern
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Bias
  • Cause of Death
  • Death Certificates
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Japan
  • Middle Aged
  • Mortality*
  • Prisoners / statistics & numerical data*
  • Selection Bias
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data*
  • Vietnam
  • Warfare*