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THE AFTERMATH The Vietnam War was so painful that, with the signing of the Paris Peace Accords and the withdrawal of the last US forces in 1973, many Americans went into a trance of amnesia. Even before the final collapse of the Saigon government in 1975, Americans somehow resolved simply to forget Vietnam. Returning Veterans were often ridiculed, ignored, or simply scoffed, and Vietnam became a taboo topic surrounded by an unspoken collection of silence.

There are some events that overwhelm history; Vietnam is one of them. Vietnam was a war with no clear-cut winner. Yet Vietnam played a role in history leading toward the fall of communism in the Soviet Union. After Vietnam, the USA showed resolve in the military way in which the Gulf War of 1990 was conducted. The returning Gulf War Veteran was welcomed home by volunteers, many of whom were Vietnam Veterans.

Vietnam Veterans went to Vietnam alone and came home individually, not as a part of a unit as in WWI, WWII and the Korean War, where support and camaraderie were usually available. They came home to a country that was violently divided over the war in Vietnam. The returning soldier came home after a 12-month tour of duty aged beyond their average age of 19 years, and they were frequently ostracized for participating in the war. Many unexpectedly faced barriers in their relationships with family and friends. Vietnam Veterans who needed and sought professional help were often misdiagnosed and mistreated, because mental health professionals have no diagnosis or treatment for the Veteran with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Gradually, Americans here came to appreciate the price paid by the Veterans who returned, their families, and those who died or are missing in Vietnam. Many continue to pay the price by suffering from PTSD. Since the end of the war, suicides have dramatically outnumbered the 58,184 who were killed in combat. Many continue to suffer from premature deaths and disabilities due to the lingering effects of exposure to Agent Orange, jail time, homelessness, substance abuse, recurring pain from wounds, or the constant ache of loved ones gone from their lives.

Most Vietnam Veterans, contrary to public image, returned to America to lead productive lives. At least people stopped blaming the warrior for the war and recognized the Veterans for their service to America.

Author Dr. Barry R. Culhane
copyright 1996