Following the communist victory on April 30, 1975, South Vietnamese veterans were rounded up and sent to reeducation camps, essentially forced labor camps in desolate areas. They were detained without trial for up to decades at a time. After being released, they and their children faced significant discrimination from the communist government. A significant proportion of the surviving South Vietnamese veterans left Vietnam for Western countries, either as boat people or through the Humanitarian Operation (HO).
US Census Bureau (2004) reports there are 8.2 million "Vietnam Era Veterans". Of these 2.59 million are reported to have served "in country".
More than 58,000 US personnel died as a result of the conflict. This comprises deaths from all categories including deaths while missing, captured, non-hostile deaths, homicides, and suicides. The US Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes veterans that served in the country then known as the Republic of Vietnam from February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975, as being eligible for such programs as the department's Readjustment Counseling Services program (aka Vet Centers) Vietnam War Veterans had to go through many hardships. It was the last American war with conscription.
Some foreign nationals volunteered for the US military, but many more were US permanent residents, who were subject to the draft, if they were male, of draft age, and not otherwise deferred or exempt from service.
110 Canadians died in Vietnam and seven are listed as missing in action.
That social division has expressed itself by the lack both of public and institutional support for the former soldiers expected by returning combatants of most conflicts in most nations. In a material sense also, veterans' benefits for Vietnam era veterans were dramatically less than those enjoyed after World War II. The Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974, as amended, , was meant to try and help the veterans overcome this.
In 1979, Public Law 96-22 established the first Vet Centers , after a decade of effort by combat vets and others who realized the Vietnam veterans in America and elsewhere (including Australia) were facing specific kinds of readjustment problems. Those problems would later become identified as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In the early days, most Vet Center staffers were Vietnam veterans themselves, many of them combat veterans. One of those first Vet Center directors was G. Robert Baker, a disabled Vietnam combat veteran. He ran the Vet Center in San Diego, CA.
As was typical in the early days of the Vet Center program, directors and staff were mainly Vietnam veterans. At the San Diego Vet Center, for example, staff and counselors included Joan Craigwell (a nurse in Vietnam), Dave Hill, Rick Thomas, Robert Gurney, John Hall, Rob Shepard, Don Williams, and Red Redwine (who worked in Yuma, AZ).
Some representatives of organizations like the Disabled American Veterans (notably Johnny Burns) started advocating for the combat veterans to receive benefits for their war related psychological trauma. Some U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital personnel in Southern California (such as Dan Emer, Dr. John Ditzler, and Barbara Small) also encouraged the veterans working at the Vet Centers to research and expand treatment options for veterans suffering the particular symptoms of this newly recognized syndrome.
This was a controversial time, but eventually, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opened Vet Centers nationwide. These centers helped develop many of the debriefing techniques used nowadays with traumatized populations from all walks of life.
The Vietnam veterans who started working in the early Vet Centers eventually began to reach out and serve World War II and Korean vets as well, many of whom had suppressed their own traumas or self-medicated for years.
Veterans, particularly in Southern California, were responsible for many of those early lobbying and subsequent Vet Center treatment programs. Among early pioneers were Vietnam veterans Randy Way, Robert Van Keuren, Jack Lyon and Rev. Bill Mahedy (whose book Out of the Night:The Spiritual Journey of Vietnam Vets dealt with issues deeply affecting many war veterans.) These men founded one of the first local organizations by and for Vietnam veterans in 1981 (now known as Veterans Village ). Other veteran clinicians in the earliest years of PTSD treatment included Shad Meshad, Rose Sandeki, Frank Walker, and Jack McCloskey, all of whom helped shape and implement early Vet Center treatment strategies.
Especially instrumental in the growing national effort was therapist Tom Williams, Psy. D. A former Captain of Infantry in the USMC, he edited a ground-breaking book in 1980 entitled Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders of the Vietnam Veteran. Published by the Disabled American Veterans, it helped introduce the "syndrome" of PTSD to the wider community.
Other early influences included John P. Wilson, Ph.D. (author of another early work published by the DAV entitled Forgotten Warrior Project) and Charles Figley, Ph.D. (who wrote early on about impacts suffered by the families of Vietnam veterans and later wrote an important book about counselors entitled "Compassion Fatique: Coping with Secondary Traumatic Stress Disorder in Those Who Treat the Traumatized.")
Vets were also largely responsible for taking debriefing and treatment strategies into the larger community where they were adapted for use in conjunction with populations impacted by violent crime, abuse, manmade and natural disasters, and those in law enforcement and emergency response.
For example, combat veteran G. Robert Baker, Ph.D., participated in training counselors in many of these fields and became a founding board member of the International Association of Trauma Counselors (now called the Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists). Many of the best trained Vietnam era trauma specialists in the world are members of this credentialing and trauma response organization. In 1992, Baker became clinical coordinator of the Veteran Administration's National Center for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in Menlo Park, CA, where he worked until his retirement.
Other notable organizations that were founded during this period included the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies and the National Organization for Victim Assistance These organizations continue to study and/or certify post-traumatic stress disorder responders and clinicians.
Overseas, post-traumatic stress disorder counseling was emerging through the leadership of Vietnam combat veterans such as Glen Edwards. The efforts of all such Vietnam veterans were summarized in the 1986 book Johnny's Song: Poetry of a Vietnam Veteran by Steve Mason in his poem entitled “A History Lesson.” Mason (1938-2005) was a decorated combat veteran and poet laureate of the Vietnam Veterans Association.
"There remains no resolution of this war beyond each man's obligation to his world and his conscience to record the True inner-history of his Vietnam experience."
The negative image of the Vietnam veteran has been battled in recent years, primarily by people such as B. G. Burkett. Burkett wrote a self-published book called Stolen Valor in which he gathered statistics attempting to prove that Vietnam Veterans were actually quite prevalent among the government and business leaders of America 30 years after the Vietnam War. Furthermore he discovered a large number of people claiming to be veterans who were not. Using the Freedom of Information Act and military personnel records, he found these 'fake vets' in every walk of life: from the VA hospital, to university professors, to book authors, to interviewees in serious studies of the Vietnam War, to homeless people, to veterans magazines, etc.
There are still, however, many proven cases of individuals who have suffered psychological damage from their time in Vietnam. Many others were physically wounded, some permanently disabled. This trend continues with Desert Storm veterans and for those serving in Iraq.