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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 National Liberation Front.

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.marker Department of Labormarker, the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA) 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."

The U.S. 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 U.S.marker Department of Veterans Affairsmarker 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 Koreamarker, 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

Throughout the Vietnam War, the Republic of Korea sent slightly over 300,000 servicemen to Vietnam. At the peak of their commitment, the ROK maintained a force of approximately 48,000 men in the country.

Australian veterans

Australia was directly engaged against North Vietnam and deployed approximately 3 battalions of infantry, 1 regiment of Centurion tanks, and a detachment of B-57 Canberra bombers to the war effort. 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 and 2400 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, when they finally accepted research that proved there were links between Agent Orange and health problems suffered by the veterans.

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 Museummarker, 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 servicemen 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 [5841], 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 [5842] 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 [5843]). 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. [5844] (author of another early work published by the DAV entitled Forgotten Warrior Project) and Charles Figley, Ph.D. [5845] (who wrote early on about impacts suffered by the families of Vietnam veterans and later wrote an important book about counselors entitled "Compassion Fatigue: 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 [5846] and the National Organization for Victim Assistance [5847]. 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 warbeyond each man's obligationto his world and his conscienceto record the True inner-historyof 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 book called Stolen Valor (initially self-published) in which he gathered statistics proving 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. However, advocates of this point of view ignore the many successful and well-adjusted Vietnam veterans who have played important roles in America since the end of the Vietnam War such as Al Gore, Fred Smith, founder and president of Federal Express, Colin Powell, John McCain,Craig Ventner, famed for being the first to map the human genome, and many others.

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 John 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. A more recent example is Bruce Dern's portrayal of a down-and-out veteran in the film Monster (2003).

An example in print 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.

In television, service in Vietnam was part of the backstory of many characters in the 80s and 90s, particularly in police or detective roles. For some, their military history was rarely referred to, such as MacGyver, Rick Simon of Simon and Simon, or Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice. To a degree, writing in a Vietnam background can be attributed simply to logical chronology, but also served to give these characters more depth, and explain their skills.

Magnum PI's Thomas Magnum, Stringfellow Hawke of Airwolf, and the characters of the A-Team were characters whose experiences in Vietnam were more frequently worked into plotlines. They were part of an early 1980s tendency to rehabilitate the image of the Vietnam vet in the public eye. While they carry emotional scars from their war experiences, they are proud of their service, and are shown fighting on the side of right and justice.

The documentary In The Shadow of The Blade (released 2004) reunited Vietnam veterans and families of war dead with a restored UH-1 "Huey" helicopter in a cross-country journey to tell the stories of Americans affected by the war.

Welcome home

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

See also


External links

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