Vietnam Veterans and Readjustment

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Vietnam Veterans and Readjustment|
Was it our fault?|
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Although programs could have been better in supporting returning veterans, ultimately the same issues would have arisen.|

In popular culture, Vietnam veterans are often portrayed as isolated and neglected in a society that took out its hatred for the war on the veterans returning home. In actuality, the stressors of war caused the problems many Vietnam veterans faced more than the societal reception that they received, as they were given opportunities to readjust. Though Vietnam veterans desired more benefits and received a somewhat lukewarm reception, it was combat and not society that caused them so many problems readjusting. The mixed reception and subpar programs could have exacerbated the problem, but likely the same issues would have occurred with readjustment, as they have in other wars.

Vietnam War-era movies often portray the brutality that soldiers faced out in the jungles of Southeast Asia. The psychological trauma inflicted by the war on its soldiers is a common theme in these war movies. Such films as Apocalypse Now, The Deer Hunter, and Born on the Fourth of July portray the popular vision of the horror-struck disturbed veteran. In Born on the Fourth of July, a veteran returns home to poor conditions at VA hospitals and little support for veterans who were traumatized. As the story is an autobiography, at least some veterans truly did experience problems with care back home following the end of the war like the veteran who the film tells the story of.

The extent of the readjustment issues can be partially tied to a system that failed to benefit them upon their return home. This issue laid partially with the issue of the war in society. The Vietnam War was extremely unpopular by the end of the fighting, and one soldier recounted the mixed reception veterans got from the general populace. In the article “Having Been to War”, Martin Napersteck recounts his story of his disillusionment coming home from Vietnam. He describes expecting a warm welcome, only to have an uneventful trip home, culminating in his realization that being a veteran did not make him loved or even respected. A woman changed seats on the plane ride back after realizing that he was a Vietnam veteran. These type of experiences made Vietnam veterans upset as their service, as they felt they had been serving these same people. This exacerbated any trauma and stress they may have incurred from the war itself.

Veterans often felt that services provided upon their return were not up to par, and this led to the notion that the suffering veteran was shunned by a society that was against the war they fought and indifferent to their needs. The evidence of problems that veterans faced gave weight to this idea and cemented it in the eyes of Americans as time went on. B.A. Franklin published an article exposing the significantly higher death rate of Vietnam veterans some years after the end of the war, and also found a significantly higher suicide rate among veterans than the general populace. The occurrence of mental illness in Vietnam veterans was thought at the time to be significantly higher than past wars, though it can be said that doctors were prone to diagnosing PTSD, at the time a new name for a familiar foe of soldiers from all conflicts in history.

What had in previous wars been described as shell-shock received a new name in the aftermath of Vietnam: PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder. PTSD was diagnosed at an extraordinarily high rate in Vietnam veterans, and estimates as high as 30% of Vietnam veterans were reported as having PTSD. Symptoms of PTSD included battlefield flashbacks and anxiousness, as well as depression. Charles M. Hendrix and Lisa M. Anelli published a report on the impact of Vietnam service on family life. Veterans often showed signs of protection over their family similar to how one would behave in a unit,...
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