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, 38 U.S.C. § 4212, 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.
Some representatives of organizations like the Disabled American Veterans started advocating for the combat veterans to receive benefits for their war related psychological trauma. Some U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital personnel 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. These men founded one of the first local organizations by and for Vietnam veterans in 1981 (now known as Veterans Village).
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.
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.
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 Venter (famed for being the first to map the human genome), and many others
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