The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress

March/April 2005
Photo:Michael Keating
The Thirty Years War

April 30 marks the thirtieth anniversary of the end of the Vietnam War. But the war has not ended in the hearts and minds of millions of Americans. Thirty years later, we are still fighting Congress for adequate funding for VA Health Care for those who served and for those who are serving today. Many in our communities were affected by the Vietnam War. They were there; they served elsewhere; or they had a brother, cousin, or uncle who did. Or there is a name of a husband, father, son, daughter, or friend etched into The Wall.

The In Memory plaque recognizes all who have died as a result of their service during the Vietnam War and whose names are not etched on the The Wall. Agent Orange, HEP-C, PTSD, and other war-related illnesses have taken so many lives. Now with yet another generation of young men and women in harm’s way, for many of us, our sleep is fitful, our anxiety is high, and our patience has vanished. And we detach from the realities of war, fear, and helplessness that surround us.

PTSD as a psychiatric diagnosis first appeared in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) in 1980. It described PTSD as a situation in which “the person experienced, witnessed, or was confronted with an event or events that involved actual or threatened death or serious injury, or a threat to the physical integrity of self or others.” The diagnosis requires that “the person’s response involved intense fear, helplessness, or horror.”

The DSM description continues: “Symptoms can include general restlessness, insomnia, aggressiveness, depression, dissociation with reality, emotional detachment, or nightmares. Amplification of other underlying psychological conditions may also occur.” Veterans of former wars suffered from what was called shell shock, battle fatigue, or soldier’s heart. But PTSD—its Vietnam War incarnation—has been a tough and secretive affliction. Instead of receiving compassion or treatment, however, returning veterans were shunned and disdained as “walking time bombs.” In fact, the “Crazy Vietnam Vet” was a common, if detestable, stereotype of American popular culture.

VVA has always loudly denounced that insulting and demeaning stereotype. Just as forcefully and even more passionately, VVA has been in the forefront of studying, examining, and describing PTSD. We have supported the formation and encouraged the use of Vet Centers. Our organization has counseled and educated our members and their friends and families about the realities of PTSD. At the same time, we have sought to educate the general public, while standing up for our own self-respect and dignity.

In the pages of The VVA Veteran can be found some of the very best writing on the subject. PTSD Committee Chair Tom Berger has reviewed the many articles that have been published in this newspaper and has selected some of the best for this issue. Some may be new to you because they’re so old. Brison and Treanor’s “Vietnam Veterans and Alcoholism,” for example, was published in 1984. Bentley’s 1991 “A Short History of PTSD” is a seminal work that should be essential reading. But PTSD is not just the affliction of Vietnam veterans. We’ve watched and read about soldiers returning from Afghanistan and Iraq. And perhaps it’s been clearer to us what’s wrong with these youngest veterans. Our commitment never to abandon another generation of veterans requires that we stand by these young men and women and give them the knowledge of our experience, even while we acknowledge that their war is different from ours.

Theirs will be a tough road. Ours has been a tough road. We will insure that the proper psychological assistance is available, as well as our full attention. VVA will hold a remembrance ceremony on April 30 at the The Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington to honor all who served, thirty years after a war that took so much from those who served their country.

God Bless those serving today.



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