Vietnam and PTSD - 40 Years Later
May 7, 2015 | by Valerie Michel Buck
40 years ago - May 7th - marked the end of the Vietnam War. Many of those alive 40 years ago can still easily recall where they were on the 7th of May and what they were doing on that memorable day. Some are still mourning those who didn't return home. Many of those who did return home, returned to bitter feelings towards the war. Public opinion of the war was very negative. So negative, in fact, that service members (even cadets) were told to not wear their uniforms in public places.  Many were afraid to reveal their service to strangers. The negative public sentiment surrounding Vietnam Veterans remained for years. 58,000 brave men and women gave their lives and those who returned, though just as brave, were forced to hide one of the most traumatic events of their lives.
Imagine joining the service in the 1960s or being drafted for a war that very few people knew the U.S. was fighting. Now imagine (after joining), fighting a war in a foreign country, being far away from home, surviving the war, then being forced to feel shame for fighting and having to quietly endure the mental hardships caused by the war for years.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD, was not officially recognized until 1980 when the American Psychiatric Association added PTSD to the Third Edition of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Unfortunately, it wasn't until 1989 that a Congressional Mandate (PL 98-528) addressed the needs of Veterans and other trauma survivors with PTSD.  Then in 2010, VA Secretary Shinseki reduced the medical evidence needed by Veterans who were seeking health care and disability compensation for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Shinseki simplified the application process which allowed for faster and more accurate decisions and quicker access to medical care for Veterans with PTSD.  For years, Vietnam and pre-Vietnam Veterans had very few resources and struggled to access the healthcare and financial resources that are readily available to veterans today.
PTSD has existed in many forms throughout the ages. Though fictional, Shakespeare's many characters displayed symptoms of PTSD. Before the official term of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, those with combat experience were deemed "Shell Shocked". Many times, Shell Shock / PTSD was mistaken for cowardice. In 1943, Lt. General Patton encountered and American Soldier at a hospital in Italy, this soldier was recovering from what was then called "nerves." Patton slapped the soldier and called him a coward.  An even more saddening account was uncovered more recently when, in 2006, the British Ministry of Defense (BMD) pardoned 300 soldiers who were executed for cowardice and desertion during World War 1. The BMD concluded that many of these soldiers were probably crippled by PTSD. 
Not only were Vietnam Veterans coming home from war not allowed to talk about their service but they were told what they did was wrong. Unable to understand their feelings and unable to talk about it, many returning service members relationships struggled, they were unable to get work and life became increasingly difficult. This hits home for me, my father in-law was drafted for Vietnam. He returned home and although he married almost immediately after, the marriage didn't last. He ended up married multiple times and had two children. He remains a person who would rather not talk about the war and prefers not be around others who have been in the war. He was diagnosed with PTSD in the last few years but refuses to believe the diagnoses and get any treatment. Though he believes he does not have PTSD he cannot watch movies with violent war scenes or be around video games with life-like war situations.
In 2011, 476,515 veterans with primary or secondary diagnosis of PTSD received treatment at Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) medical centers and clinics.  According to the VA about 5.2 million adults have PTSD during a given year and only a small portion of those who have endured a trauma. 
Our history books are littered with thousands of cases of PTSD. Fortunately, veterans in today's society have more resources and have vastly more emotional, verbal and physical support than those who served during Vietnam Era. Many of us rarely remember how brave Vietnam Veterans were and still are.
Do you suspect you or a loved one may have PTSD? Find out symptoms and treatment options here or contact your mental health provider for more information: ptsd.va.gov/PTSD/public/PTSD-overview/basics/index.asp
Vietnam War Memorial: thewall-usa.com
Look up friends or family members on the Vietnam War Memorial: vvmf.org/Wall-of-Faces
If you are a Veteran and need help with benefits: veteransaidbenefit.org