Issue date: 02 September 2004

ISSUE DATE: 02/09/04

At least one in five veterans of the Korean War continues to be adversely affected by their experiences, according to research recently presented to a nursing conference in Seoul, South Korea.

The Korean War Veterans, most of whom have now entered their seventies, were invited to take part in the project via their veteran association. The survey results showed that a sizeable proportion of veterans, and combatants in particular, reported long-term negative psychological effects associated with distressing memories.

During her trip to South Korea to present the findings, one of the researchers, Deidre Wild, from the University of the West of England’s Faculty of Health and Social Care, visited the scene of the famous “Gloster Valley” battle in the north of South Korea and paid her respects at the first UN war cemetery at Pusan in the south-east.

“I have been increasingly interested in the psychological after-effects in veterans of this ‘forgotten war’ and this visit added a vital piece to my understanding,” said Deidre, a principal lecturer and registered nurse.

“This was a war in a land unknown to many of the participating troops sent from 16 countries. It included periods of both fierce fighting and tense stalemate in a harsh winter and hot summer climate and in an inhospitable terrain. The public in the West, still weary from World War 11, tended to have little interest in this war and returning troops were often treated with indifference.”

The Korean War was the first serious conflict of the Cold War and the first major test of the UN. It resulted in more casualties in three years than in the Vietnam conflict but did not receive substantial media coverage. There has been little subsequent research into the health and social well-being of its British veterans.

Two measures were used to ascertain the respondents’ current psychological health and another to determine their level of intensity for life losses and gains – i.e. the extent to which their lives had been enriched or damaged by the experience of wartime service.

Among the significant findings were that Korean War combat veterans were more likely than other army personnel of the period to experience greater negativity on all psychological measures. Even Korean War veterans who had not actually taken part in fighting had elevated levels of residual psychological symptoms.

“This study provides valuable information on the largest group of British Korean veterans ever assembled, most of whom were nineteen at the time of being conscripted,” continued Deidre.

“It looks at those many veterans who are living lives in the community and who (in general) have no history of seeking psychiatric help but are nevertheless demonstrating levels of often ‘hidden’ distressing memories that could be marring their quality of life.

“Our research has many implications at the practice level for nursing older people with known or suspected war-related trauma. For, although we may not be able to lessen the impact of distressing memories, we can be proactive in the way we include and respect them in older peoples’ present lives. Patients with such symptoms can find support from the welfare officer of veterans’ associations or could benefit from referrals to a psychologist trained to deal with war trauma.

“This research has provided us with vital basic data. We now hope to extend the research by means of in-depth interviews with veterans to allow us to assess how their experiences have impacted on their family life and what coping mechanisms were employed by those who survived the conflict.”


Editor’s notes

1. The research project was entitled “The health and well-being of UK Korean war veterans.” It is a collaboration with Professor Ian Stuart-Hamilton of the University of Glamorgan and Dr Bere Mahoney of the University College Worcester.

2. The study compared British Korean War veterans with British armed forces personnel of the same era (1950-53) who had not fought in Korea – a total of over 1500 respondents of whom two-thirds were veterans of Korea. Among its findings were:

• Korean War combatants experienced a greater negative intensity for symptoms on all psychological measures including distressing memories than the non-combatants of the same war.
• although all Korean War veterans experienced greater gains than losses in their lives after the War, combatants experienced a greater negative intensity for their life losses than non-combatants.

• while it was not possible to determine psychiatric illness from the measurement tools employed, the findings suggest that in particular combatant veterans from this war could be more susceptible to this.

3. The project was undertaken with the support of the British Korean Veteran Association.

4. Findings will be presented at the British Society of Gerontology, 33rd Annual Scientific Meeting, Roehampton University, 9-11 September 2004.

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