The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
The Thirty Years War
BY THOMAS H. COREY
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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