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Vietnam veteran

Vietnam Era veteran is a phrase used to describe someone who served in the armed forces of participating countries during the Vietnam War. The term has been used to describe veterans who were in the armed forces of South Vietnam, the United States armed forces, and countries allied to them, whether or not they were actually stationed in Vietnam during their service. However, the more common usage distinguishes between those who served "in country" and those who did not actually serve in Vietnam by referring to the "in country" veterans as "Vietnam veterans" and the others as "Vietnam era veterans." The U.S. government officially refers to all as "Vietnam era veterans."

In the English-speaking world, the term "Vietnam veteran" is not usually used in relation to members of the communist People's Army of Vietnam or the Viet Cong.

South Vietnamese veterans

Although exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, it is safe to say that several million people served in the South Vietnamese armed forces, the vast majority of them in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN)—between 1956 and 1975. It is known that during 19691971, there were about 22,000 ARVN combat deaths per year and the army reached a peak strength of about one million soldiers during 1972. The official number of anti-communist Vietnamese personnel killed in action was 220,357.

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).

United States veterans

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act (VEVRAA) of 1974 states, "A Vietnam era veteran is a person who

  1. served on active duty for a period of more than 180 days, any part of which occurred between August 5, 1964 and May 7, 1975, and was discharged or released with other than a dishonorable discharge.
  2. was discharged or released from active duty for a service connected disability if any part of such active duty was performed between August 5, 1964 and May 7, 1975.
  3. served on active duty for more than 180 days and served in the Republic of Vietnam between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975."

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.

Veterans from other nations

Nationals of other nations fought in the American-led coalition, sometimes as armed forces of allied nations, such as Australia and South Korea, but sometimes as members of the US armed forces.

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.

South Korean veterans

South Koreans forces at their peak were approximately one-tenth of US forces; by extrapolation that would indicate 250,000 South Koreans served in-country.

Australian veterans

Australia was directly engaged in the Vietnam as a US ally. Approximately 49,000 Australian military personnel served in Vietnam. According to official statistics, 501 personnel died or went missing in action during the Vietnam war. 2400 Australians were wounded. The Australian veterans were very much rejected by the people and the government after arriving and did not receive a welcome home parade until 1987, 15 years after the last soldier and national servicemen left Vietnam. The government did not admit that defoliants such as Agent Orange had disastrous health effects on the veterans until 1992, where they finally accepted research that said there were links to health problems that the veterans had and Agent Orange.

New Zealand veterans

Initially, in May 1965, New Zealand provided one 4 gun artillery battery (140 men) with two rifle companies of infantry, designated Victor and Whiskey companies, and an SAS troop arriving later. The New Zealanders operated in Military Region 3 with the Australian forces as part of the ANZAC task force (brigade)based in Nui Dat in Phuoc Thuy Province, North East of Saigon. Even at the height of New Zealand involvement in 1968, the force was only 580 men. New Zealand's total contribution numbered approximately 4,000 personnel. 37 were killed and 187 were wounded. As of 2007, no memorial has been erected to remember these casualties.

Canadian veterans

During the Vietnam era, more than 30,000 Canadians served in the US armed forces. Fred Graffen, military historian with the Canadian War Museum, estimated in Vietnam Magazine (Perspectives) that approximately 12,000 of these personnel actually served in Vietnam. Most of these were natives of Canada who lived in the United States. The military of Canada did not officially participate in the war effort, as it was appointed to the UN truce commissions and thus had to remain officially neutral in the conflict.

110 Canadians died in Vietnam and seven are listed as missing in action.

The numbers of draft US conscientious objectors, draft dodgers and deserters that went to Canada is estimated to be between 30,000 and 70,000 by most authorities.

Negative stereotypes of Vietnam veterans and efforts to overcome

There are persistent stereotypes about Vietnam veterans as psychologically devastated, bitter, homeless, drug-addicted people who had a hard time readjusting to society, primarily due to the uniquely divisive nature of the Vietnam War in the context of U.S. History.

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.

In popular culture

The Vietnam veteran has been depicted in fiction and film of variable quality. His first appearance in film seems to be in the bizarre film Hi, Mom! (1970) in which vet Robert de Niro films pornographic home movies before deciding to become an urban guerilla. Bleaker in tone are such films as The Hard Ride (1971) and Welcome Home Soldier Boys (1972) in which returning vets are met with incomprehension and violence. In Taxi Driver (1976) Robert de Niro plays Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle who wages a one man war against society whilst he makes plans to assassinate a presidential candidate. Apparently this film inspired John W. Hinckley to make a similar attempt against President Ronald Reagan.First Blood (1982) features Rambo (Sylvester Stallone in an iconic role), a Vietnam vet who comes into conflict with a small town police department. In Born on the Fourth of July (1989) Tom Cruise portrays disenchanted Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic who, wounded in action and wheel-chair bound, leads rallies against the war. One popular example is Marvel Comics' the Punisher, also known as Frank Castle. Castle learned all of his combat techniques from his time as a Marine as well as from his three tours of combat during Vietnam. It is also where he acquired his urge to punish the guilty, which goes on to be a defining trait in Castles' character. A more recent example is Bruce Dern's portrayal of a down-and-out veteran in the film Monster (2003). In television, Magnum PI was part of an early 1980s movement to rehabilitate the image of the Vietnam vet in the public eye. The characters in The A-Team also served in Vietnam. In the film No Country for Old Men, two of the characters are Vietnam veterans.

Welcome home

To this day, a frequent greeting and catchphrase among American Vietnam veterans is 'Welcome home'.

See also

References

External links

  • Vietnam Views - marking the 30th anniversary of its end, a social journal that captures stories from those affected by the war
  • Vietnam Veterans Home Page - the original Vietnam veteran presence on the Web, launched on Veteran's Day, 1994, with stories, poems, maps, and other information by and for the Vietnam veteran.
  • More statistics on the war
  • http://finduslaw.com/vietnam_era_veterans_readjustment_assistance_act_of_1974_vevraa_38_us_code_chapter_42_4211_4215 Text of the Vietnam Era Veterans Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 - 38 US Code Chapter 42 §§4211-4215]

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