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Research Study Evaluates Service Members' Health Trends

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, June 17, 2002 – An ongoing DoD health study will ultimately examine health surveys submitted by 140,000 current and former service members across two decades.

The joint-service Millennium Cohort Study will evaluate the health risks of military deployments, occupations and general military service, said Navy Cmdr. Margaret A.K. Ryan, director of the DoD Center for Deployment Health Research in San Diego.

The Millennium Cohort Study is designed to examine the health effects of military service on men and women, both during service and after they leave, Ryan explained. More than 60,000 service members have signed up to take part since program enrollment began in August 2001, she added.

The project "is the largest and most ambitious study of military people ever," she added, noting that participants' health would be evaluated over a 21-year period.

Ryan, principal investigator for the study, works with six other investigators. The results of the study, she noted, may also be used to develop future DoD health policies.

Active and reserve component Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force members were randomly selected and invited to participate in the study, she said.

"People could not volunteer to be part of the cohort -- that would be a different kind of study, like a registry project. A cohort study is a much stronger study design," Ryan explained.

She said the first group, or cohort, will ultimately consist of about 100,000 enrollees. Ryan said participants enroll by filling out a paper form or signing up online at www.millenniumcohort.org.

The study will enroll another group of 20,000 people in 2004, Ryan said. The last 20,000 of the total 140,000 Millennium Cohort members will enroll by 2007.

Ryan said participants are asked to complete surveys about their basic health every three years. The surveys, she noted, inquire about any acute or chronic health problems, possible exposures to toxic substances during military deployments and health-related behaviors like smoking and exercise.

Information gathered from surveys is held in the strictest confidence, Ryan emphasized, and is only shared as summarized, anonymous research data.

"We take quite a bit of effort to make sure that all of the information people provide is confidential," she said. "None of this information leaves the DoD Center for Deployment Health Research."

Communications are maintained between officials and survey participants for the duration of the program, Ryan said. "We ask cohort members to help us track their addresses and so on throughout the years, so that we can contact them," she added.

She said participants specify how they'll maintain contact -- work address, home address or e-mail -- however they prefer. She noted the critical importance of cohort members maintaining contact -- participants are selected scientifically to provide an accurate cross-section of the force.

For example, she said, some people invited are currently deployed overseas as part of Operation Enduring Freedom. Recognizing the challenge of enrolling in The Millennium Cohort while deployed, Ryan noted people could sign up when they return to a more convenient location.

People who've received invitations to enroll in The Millennium Cohort should take the time to do so, she emphasized. Information from the surveys, she said, "is very important for the military and for veterans."

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