National Vietnam War Veterans Day will be observed on March 29. The nine million who served in the armed forces between November 1, 1955 to May 15, 1975, and their families are honored. Of this number: 304,000 were wounded. 1,253 were Missing in Action (MIA) have not been found and returned to American soil, 687 were Prisoners of War (POWs) who were returned, and 58,000 names of those who died are memorialized on a black granite wall in our Nation’s capital.
Of the men and women who returned, they were never the same. Many suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. While many may think that PTSD is a new condition, it has manifested itself after every war ever fought. In earlier times, men went off to war and were expected to return home as nothing had happened. In my own family, my great grandfather and five of his brothers served in the Civil War. Three of the six exhibited types of PTSD as they struggled to deal with what they had been through. My great grandfather turned to alcohol to deal with what called nervous disorders, one brother had anger management issues, and the youngest committed suicide. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, self medication with alcohol and drugs, depression, anger, and suicide are all classic symptoms of PTSD. Today, they are as prevalent among returning vets from Afghanistan and Iraq as they were in the Vietnam War and earlier.
What was very different for the Vietnam Vets was the exposure to Agent Orange, a tactical herbicide used by the U.S. military from 1962 to 1975. The military sprayed millions of gallons of Agent Orange on trees and vegetation during the Vietnam War. The VA has recognized certain cancers and other health problems as associated with exposure to Agent Orange or other herbicides during military service. Veterans and their survivors may be eligible for benefits for these diseases. These include cancer, diabetes, Hodgkin’s Disease, a type of Heart Disease, Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, Parkinson’s Disease, Prostate Cancer and others. The VA offers health registry exams, health care, disability compensation and other benefits to eligible Veterans. Their dependents and survivors also may be eligible for benefits. For a detailed discussion of Agent Orange, see the VA website at http://www.publichealth.va.gov/exposures/agentorange . Or contact the your local county Veterans Service Agency which assists veterans and their families to identify and apply for benefits, in which they are entitled to from local, state, and federal agencies as a result of their military service.
On March 29th, we will honor all the Americans served. When they returned home, there were no big celebrations. No parades. No words of welcome from a grateful nation. If you see a Vietnam Veteran that day, simply thank him or her for their service, it is long overdue.
A version of this post appeared as an OpEd in the Geneva, NY Finger Lakes Times, March 24, 2019