The Effects Of Vietnam On Its Veterans
Essay, Research Paper
The Effects of the Vietnam War on its Veterans
Thesis: The Vietnam War took many tolls on its soldiers; now the veterans have to deal
with medical problems like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), severe drug and
alcohol addictions, and the effects of Agent Orange.
II. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder
III. Drug and Alcohol Addictions
IV. Agent Orange
A. Background Information
B. Diseases of
The Effects of the Vietnam War on its Veterans.
Have you ever seen a homeless man sleeping in the street and hastily conclude that he is at the bottom of society? I bet that you never stopped to think about where that person has come from. He could have been just like you at one time, nineteen years old, just out of high school, ready to start his life, but then he was drafted. According to the National Coalition for the Homeless at least one third of homeless males are veterans (Shay 178). A large amount of veterans have severe problems in everyday society. Many veterans have to deal with physical health conditions as well as mental health problems. The Vietnam War took many tolls on its soldiers; now the veterans have to deal with medical like Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), severe drug and alcohol addictions, and the effects of Agent Orange.
Perhaps one of the most devastating side effects of fighting a war is the amount of stress that is put on the soldiers. This is because of a mental health problem called Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). PTSD is a condition that is caused by an enormous amount of stress that is put on an individual. Post-Vietnam syndrome is another name for PTSD and the two are even more generally known as war neurosis (Scott 28). War neurosis has been recognized as a medical condition from a time dating back to the civil war (Scott 28).
PTSD sets in anywhere from nine to thirty months after the overwhelming traumatic event (Scott 43). The event in which causes this disorder is not always a combat situation, but can also be from something like a rape or an attack. However
combat is one of the most traumatizing events that can happen to a person. The way this disorder happens is when a person experiences a traumatic event and if they can not handle the situation their senses and coping mechanisms are overloaded (Danitz 1).
One of the affects of PTSD is that the veterans have trouble with relationships because of their numbed emotions (Dantiz 1). This is done so that they will feel protected. Since this is done the horrifying and painful memories do not bother them. People suffering from PTSD also complain of nightmares, insomnia, and always feeling on edge
Some of the other feelings that also go along with PTSD are guilt, rage, alienation, and the general feeling of being a scapegoat (Scott 43). Since everyone in the US was against the war they had bad feelings towards the soldiers. The soldiers were away fighting and when they came home; everybody blamed them for the war. This in turn made them full of guilt and rage. Some felt guilty for what they had just done and others were extremely mad that the people felt this way. These feelings were also because of the soldiers inability to grieve in the combat zone (Scott 43).
Another reason why the Vietnam War was so emotionally rough on its soldiers is because the men were so young. The average age of the US soldier in the Vietnam War was 19 (Danitz 3). In addition when they returned home, they were often alone for plane ride that took about thirty-six hours. Plus when they returned many people rejected them making them feel isolated (Danitz 2-3). For someone at such a young age to go through something like this, is a very hard thing to do.
This mental health disorder led to another harmful problem for the veterans of the Vietnam War. In 1991, according to the Journal of Traumatic Stress, ninety percent of veterans who requested treatment for PTSD were diagnosed as being alcohol dependent (Danitz 1).
There are many reasons why soldiers of this war chose to drink and use drugs. One of the reasons the soldiers would drink is to hide their emotions. They would drink to get drunk to hide the simple fact that the deaths of fellow soldiers were bothering them (Danitz 2). In reality using alcohol actually reduced their ability to cope with what was going on around them (Danitz 2).
Many veterans would also use alcohol as a medication . They would simply use it to ease their minds and loosen them up a little. According to Terry Keane, soldiers would drink a water glass full of bourbon at night in so that they could fall asleep (Danitz 3).
They would also use drugs instead of alcohol for the same reason. Marijuana was originally the drug of choice. In Indochina marijuana was locally grown, therefore it was readily available (Helmer 75). In 1969 head military officials ordered a crackdown on the soldiers use of marijuana (Helmer 75). Marijuana was not an easy drug to hide. It had a distinct smell that gave it away. Soldiers began to experiment and found other drugs to use.
With the ban on marijuana heroin was one of the drugs that became extremely popular. Heroin was both easy to use and conceal. It was odorless and easy to use.
Heroin quickly became readily available. Would soldiers who now began to use heroin have done so without the crackdown? The answer is no. (Helmer 77).
In June of 1971 the government did something else that could have hurt the soldiers mentally. In order to leave Vietnam soldiers would have to pass a drug test (Helmer 80). If a soldier did not pass their test they had to remain in Vietnam and under go treatment. As if this wasn t bad enough, making someone that is having a rough time in the war stay longer, the tests were extremely inaccurate. Many soldiers failed who should have passed and vice-versa. This test policy put more stress on the soldiers.
One of the largest causes of physical health problems among Vietnam Veterans was due to a chemical called Agent Orange. Agent Orange was a herbicide that was used during the Vietnam War. This herbicide was made primarily of a dioxin called Tetrachlorodibenzo (TCDD). TCDD is, perhaps the most detrimental and damaging chemical ever produced (Moore 2). This dioxin is known to cause a number of diseases in lab animals, many of which are fatal (Lewis 1). The short-term effect of Agent Orange was such a great deal of help for the soldiers of the war in Vietnam that it was known as every soldier s friend. It cleared the dense floors of the jungles exposing the enemy and snipers that laid along riverbanks waiting for soldiers to walk into their traps were driven out (Blankenship 1). It also destroyed the food supply for the Vietnamese. This chemical was developed during the Second World War to destroy Japan s rice crops, but was not used being called heinous.
In 1961 John Fitzgerald Kennedy made maybe the worst decision concerning the Vietnam War; he ordered the use of Agent Orange (Moore 1). This started the testing of
Agent Orange in Vietnam. In 1967 and 68 Agent Orange was used on a regular basis in large quantities. When the government saw the harmful effects of the herbicide its use was diminished and then eventually discontinued in 1971.
In 1977 veterans first started making claims that Agent Orange was the cause of their illness or disability. These claims that were made started Maude DeVictor, a VA caseworker, to start doing some research. She collected about two dozen files when her boss told her to stop this informal investigation. This caused her to turn all of her files over to a reporter. After doing further research, the reporter concluded with a documentary that received national attention (Scott 87-88). This started a snowball effect of Agent Orange claims. A committee was then formed specifically to deal with the claims that dealt with herbicides. They were told to handle cases courteously but without sympathy that Agent Orange might have caused these health problems. Agent Orange has caused many health problems for the veterans and their families, including Spina Bifida, Soft Tissue Sarcoma, Hodgkin s Disease, Prostate Cancer, Porphyria Cutanea Tarda (PCT), Respiratory Cancer, and Chloracne to name a few. There are many factors that come in to play when trying to determine the cause of an Agent Orange related illness.
One reason that it is so hard to determine if a health problem was caused by Agent Orange was because there are approximately two and a half million veterans (Lewis 2). It is extremely difficult to determine who had contact with the herbicide. Also, what is contact considered? Direct contact, being sprayed with it or physically touching it, or congesting it through the food and water chains (Lewis 2).
Another reason why it was hard to link Agent Orange to these diseases is that they did not reappear immediately. The diseases that were caused could take twenty years or more for them to appear (Lewis 2). In that long period of time other factors could have caused the disease.
One of the largest health affects of Agent Orange did not directly affect the veteran. However, in the eyes of some, it hurt someone a lot more important; it hurt their children. A large number of veterans who were exposed to Agent Orange produced children who had Spina Bifida. Spina Bifida is a congenital cleft of the vertebral column with hernial protrusion of the meninges (membrane that envelopes the brain and spinal) (Blankenship 1).
Soft Tissue Sarcoma is a rare form of cancer that arises only 2 cases per one hundred thousand (Agent Orange Debrief 1). Soft Tissue Sarcoma, also referred to as Sarcoma, is malignant tumor that forms in the tissues of the body. When formed it spreads throughout the body primarily to other organs.
Yet another cancer caused due to Agent Orange is that of the prostate. A malignant growth forms on the outer area of the prostate gland (Agent Orange Debrief 1). Since the primary cause of prostate cancer is not know, how can it be proved that Agent Orange is linked to it, this made it even harder. Hodgkin s disease is another disease that is caused by Agent Orange, but again the exact cause is unknown making it difficult to link the two together.
Agent Orange does cause many health problems. The chemical did help the soldiers but it is now back to haunt them. The soldiers friend turned into the veterans enemy. (Blankenship 1).
The Vietnam War has had a large impact on how its veterans are forced to live life. Because of this, war there are many veterans who suffer with medical problems ranging from drug and alcohol abuse to the very hard PTSD, not to mention Agent Orange. Overall the Vietnam War had left a very large negative impression on the men who served in it. For many, the war was not over when they left Vietnam, it had just begun.
Agent Orange Debrief. Online. Available . Accessed 16
Blankenship, Janice. Living with the Legacy of Agent Orange. Veterans of Foreign
Wars Magazine. Aug. 1998: 20-22.
Dantiz, Tiffany. Drowning the Demons of War. Insight on the News. 3 March 1997:
14. InfoTrac, Expanded Academic ASAP. Online. Forest City, CA: Information Access Co., 1999. Accessed 2 February 1999.
Helmer, John. Bringing the War Home: The American Soldier in Vietnam and After.
New York: Macmillan Publishing, 1974.
Lewis, William. Some Facts about Agent Orange/Dioxin. New Jersey Agent Orange
Commission. Online. Available Accessed 7 February 1999.
Moore, Gary D. Agent Orange Talking Paper #1 Michigan Agent Orange
Commission. Online. Accessed 7 February 1999.
Shay, Jonathan. Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character.
New York: Scribner Publishing, 1994.
Scott, Wilbur J. The Politics of Readjustment: Vietnam Veterans Since the War. New
York: Aldine De Gruyter Publishing, 1993.