Birth defects study of veterans’ children shows no linkage to service in the Gulf


WASHINGTON, June 12, 1997 (GulfLINK) — The latest medical study on birth defects among the children of veterans demonstrates that children of Gulf War veterans do not have an increased risk of birth defects. The study compared Gulf War veterans’ offspring to those of military personnel who did not serve in the Persian Gulf. The risk of birth defects in both military populations approximates the risk level in the general civilian population.

Seven studies on "reproductive health" and Gulf War veterans have been funded by the federal government. Two studies have recently been concluded, with the results of the second study being published in the June 5 issue of The New England Journal of Medicine.

The article covers the study of 33,998 infants born to 578,705 Gulf War veterans and 41,463 infants born to 699,954 military personnel who did not serve in the Kuwait Theater of Operations (KTO).

The proportion of birth defects among these births is displayed in the table below. "All" birth defects includes such things as hereditary diseases and any abnormality even if only cosmetic, such as birthmarks. "Severe" birth defects covers those malformations rated by the Centers for Disease Control to be frequent enough and severe enough to represent a public health problem.

As the table below shows, there were no meaningful differences in the rates of birth defects in the children of military personnel assigned to the Gulf, when compared to those not deployed to the Gulf. The small differences seen in the table are not statistically significant.



Percentage of liveborne children with birth defects


ALL birth defects

SEVERE birth defects

  Children of

Gulf War vets

Children of non-Gulf War vets Children of

Gulf War vets

Children of non-Gulf War vets
Offspring of

active duty men





Offspring of

active duty women











There was no relationship between the duration of deployment during the war, in days or months, and the risk of any birth defect in the children of Gulf War veterans. In addition, the length of time from the return home from the Gulf to the date of childbirth was not related to the risk of any birth defect. If service in the war was related to birth defects, this would most likely appear right after the service members returned home, but this pattern was not observed.

There was also no relationship between Gulf War service and the risk of severe birth defects. In both deployed and non-deployed veterans, the most common types of severe birth defects involved the genitourinary system, the heart and circulatory system, and congenital hip dislocation.

The study said the Gulf War veterans with children were more likely to be single, black, in the Army, and in the enlisted ranks than the control group of veterans who did not serve in the Gulf. When statistical adjustments were made to account for those differences, there was still no indication the children of Gulf War veterans were at any greater risk of being born with defects.

The article points out that the study had both strengths and limitations.

The strengths include the very large number of births studied, and the fact that the study covered conceptions for the two years after the Gulf War, when the reproductive impact of service in the Gulf would most likely show up.

The limitations include:


The study was not designed to investigate subgroups or small populations that may have had unique exposures.

110,000 members of the Reserve or National Guard who deployed to the Gulf War were not included in the study, because neither they nor their families were eligible for care in military hospitals after the service member was released from active duty.

Children born after their fathers and mothers left active-duty were not included in the study. By the end of the study, on September 30, 1993, about 44% of the men and 30% of the women had left active duty.

Over 99% of live births to female service members occurred in military hospitals, so this is a complete information source for them. In contrast, about 58% of live births to the wives of male service members occurred in military hospitals, so this is not a complete source for them. This means that information for 42% of the children of male service members is not available.

This study focused on birth defects diagnosed at birth. Not all congenital defects are diagnosed at birth, and a minority of them are detected months or even years later.

The limitations of this study are being addressed in other research projects on reproductive health that are currently underway.

The total numbers of live born children were determined from both military and civilian hospital records. Gulf War veterans gave birth to a significantly increased number of children, when compared to non-deployed veterans, which implies that Gulf War service did not harm fertility.

While the results of this large research study are reassuring, it cannot answer all the questions about reproductive problems among Gulf War veterans. If a Gulf War veteran has concerns about a child who has a birth defect or other health problem, the child is eligible to receive a complete medical examination in the DoD Comprehensive Clinical Evaluation Program (CCEP) or the VA Persian Gulf Health Registry. Active duty personnel can schedule a personal or a family member appointment with the CCEP by calling 1-800-796-9699. Service personnel who have been discharged can schedule a personal appointment or an appointment for a family member at the VA by calling 1-800-PGW-VETS.