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 Air Force Health Study (AFHS). The AFHS is an epidemiologic study of U.S. Air Force (USAF) personnel who were responsible for conducting aerial spray missions of herbicides during the Vietnam era—called Ranch Hands because the spray program was designated Operation Ranch Hand—and a matched cohort of comparison subjects who performed similar duties in Southeast Asia during the same time period but who were not involved with herbicide spraying. The study’s first of six cycles of physical examinations were conducted in 1982 on 1,046 Ranch Hands and 1,223 comparison subjects (Michalek, 2005).
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