the Air Force Health Study (AFHS), it comprises the Ranch Hand veterans as well as a comparison group of USAF personnel who were also in the Vietnam theater, but who were presumed not to have been exposed to herbicides. The study includes a morbidity component with periodic physical examinations and other data collection, a companion examination of reproductive outcomes in subjects’ offspring, and a records-based mortality-only component.
AFHS funding has been provided by direct congressional appropriation as a line item in the Department of Defense budget. Approximately $143 million has been spent or allocated for the study.
Major data gathering activities for the AFHS have been completed, and investigators are finishing research projects. The study is currently scheduled to end on September 30, 2006.
Public Law 108-183, the Veterans Benefits Act of 2003, directed the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to contract with the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) to address several questions regarding the appropriate disposition of the AFHS.
Section 602(c) of the law charged the NAS to evaluate the following:
(1) The scientific merit of retaining and maintaining the medical records, other study data, and laboratory specimens collected in the course of the Air Force Health Study after the currently scheduled termination date of the study in 2006.
(2) Whether or not any obstacles exist to retaining and maintaining the medical records, other study data, and laboratory specimens referred to in paragraph (1), including privacy concerns.
(3) The advisability of providing independent oversight of the medical records, other study data, and laboratory specimens referred to in paragraph (1), 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 Air Force Health Study, including the potential value and relevance of extending the study, the potential cost of extending the study, and the federal or nonfederal entity best suited to continue the study if extended.
(5) The advisability of making the laboratory specimens of the Air Force Health Study available for independent research, including the potential value and relevance of such research, and the potential cost of such research.
This report, prepared by the Committee on the Disposition of the Air Force Health Study, provides responses to these charges.