The American public, for the most part, have the impression our Vietnam vets are all home, and that war is long over, right? Yeah, well, you may find the rest of this blog post surprising at best, and alarming at the very least. See if you really know what has become of far too many Vietnam vets.
JUNE IS POST TRAUMATIC STRESS DISORDER MONTH, a very relevant and timely month for our military veterans. I received an e-mail, sharing a post by Charlene Rubush entitled, “Some Disturbing Facts about Vietnam Veterans.” Ms. Rubush shares some dialogue from the book, Nam Vet, penned by Chuck Dean. The statistics shared in Mr. Dean’s book are alarming, appalling, and unforgiving.
I remember a time when the term “Vietnam vet” did not exist, nor was it expected to become such a major part of the Boomers’ vocabulary. During my sophomore year, 1966, a little conflict was gearing up in a small country located in the Far East. The plot of land was in civil war, division was everywhere. We would come to learn of North Vietnam and South Vietnam. My classmates were enlisting. The draft was reenacted. Their brothers who had already graduated high school were being called up and shipped over to the Mei Kong Delta. We began to learn of the Ho Chi Minh Trail and the Hanoi Hilton. Neither were resorts. Thousands died there and their bodies remain there to this very day. There are also the MIA’s—Missing in Action. Numerous Vietnam vets were left behind in a God-forsaken place, never to be found, never to return home. That is why those black MIA flags still bring goosebumps to my arms. I wonder how many are still there, still alive, still wishing to come home.
It was also during my sophomore year that one of my classmates joined some of the first to lose their lives in what was still being called a “police action.” His name was Donnie. I still remember his bright dark brown eyes, his sense of humor and his handsome looks. Then Johnny was shipped out. He grew up across the street from the elementary school we attended together, remaining classmates into junior and senior high school. Johnny was also killed in Vietnam.
I still recall all the newsreels and reports, the video footage of our maimed and dead lying in rice paddies. Vietnam was the first war to be covered and televised in color on a daily basis. It came into our living rooms every night courtesy of Huntley & Brinkley, Cronkite and Rather. The term “agent orange” became familiar to us, as well. We, as the Baby Boomer generation, lost a lot of family and friends during the Vietnam War—yes, it was finally recognized, at least by the public, as full blown all out war. When Vietnam Vets came home, as they walked through airports, they were spit upon and called “baby killers.” Little did I know the real wars and battles were just beginning for them. To see the following statistics as they relate to our Vietnam vets disturbs me beyond any adjectives to describe how angry and upset I am about the whole thing. I hated the Vietnam War. I despised it. Perhaps I was a closet hippy. I just remember every time a young man was about to turn 18 and be required to enlist for the draft, we held our breath, turned white and the blood in our veins ran like ice water. Would he be next? Would his number come up?
Our children and grandchildren will never know what it was like to see brave heroes disgraced and ridiculed for serving their country, many going to the other side of the world unwillingly. You see, if you were drafted, you went—no questions asked. I had no idea the losses of life in Vietnam were only the tip of the iceberg. Once these brave men (and women) returned home, they anticipated returning to a normal life. Sadly, they found anything but that.
In an effort to bring attention to the current plight of our Vietnam veterans, I choose to share the e-mail I received. My life will never be the same after reading it.
For each and every one of our Vietnam vets who is suffering from PTSD, living on the streets, battling the demons of alcohol and drug abuse, who feel totally forgotten and unloved, let me say this: YOU ARE ALL HEROES! With all my heart, through this written word I hope to shout it to the heavens. YOU ARE ALL HEROES! Thank you,Vietnam vets for putting your lives on the line, even today. You are paying a price that is ungodly and quite frankly, un-American. I only pray this will wake up many other Americans to what has truly become of our Vietnam vets. Godspeed, Ooh-rah, anchors aweigh, and may those glorious caissons march with pride! We salute you!
I’ve recently been re-reading Chuck Dean’s outstanding book “Nam Vet.” I think some facts are worth sharing:
- Since 1975, nearly three times as many Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than were killed in the war.
- Fifty-eight-thousand-plus Americans died in the Vietnam War. Over 150,000 have committed suicide since the war ended.
- The suicide rate among veterans who have completed the local VA program is estimated at 2.5 per hundred.
- The national accidental death and suicide rate is fourteen thousand men per year—33 percent above the national average.
- Of those veterans who were married before going to Vietnam, 38 percent were divorced within six months after returning from Southeast Asia.
- The divorce rate amongstVietnamveterans is above 90 percent.
- Five-hundred thousand Vietnam veterans have been arrested or incarcerated by the law. It is estimated that there are 100,000Vietnamvets in prison today, and 200,000 on parole.
- Drug-and-alcohol abuse problems range between 50 percent and 75 percent.
- Forty percent of Vietnam veterans are unemployed and 25 percent earn less than seven thousand dollars per year.
Chuck Dean has been instrumental in Point Man International. (800) 877-VETS (8387)
Point Man is a spiritually based veterans-for-veterans support organization.
After reading the alarming statistics about our Vietnam vets, I am compelled to say, “Let us not repeat the past.”
To each and every veteran who has served in Iraq or Afghanistan, let us extend honor, dignity and appreciation. They went into the belly of the beast while we stayed home—protected.
Carolyn S. Hennecy recently received a certificate as Designated Victim Services Practitioner through completion of a 40-hour course conducted by the Office of the Attorney General of the State of Florida. She is recognized nationally as an expert survivor spokesperson on domestic/intimate partner abuse and violence, sexual assault and child molestation and abuse.