Vietnam and the American Psyche

More than 40 years after the Vietnam War (1954-1975), the effort of lingering stress on Americans who fought in the conflict seems to cause stress among all the researchers. A new study found that almost 19% of the more than 3 million U.S. soldiers who served in Vietnam returned with PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder). It’s the condition that left them with very invasive memories, nightmares, loss of concentration, feelings of guilt and most importantly, major depression.

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Trying to pin down how much trauma Vietnam combatants brought home with them, and are still living with, has been an up and down affair. In 1988 the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention concluded that about 15% of male Vietnam veterans had developed PTSD but only a little more than 2% were still haunted by the disorder (The war ended with a peace accord in 1973 and all U.S. troops withdrew in 1975 with the fall of Saigon). The latter numbers was low enough for Congress to think about phasing out the counseling and other mental health services. Second thoughts led Congress to support another look into the situation. Results from that effort, the 1990 National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study, hit like a rocket! It put the number of those mentally wounded by PTSD at a whopping 30.9%, those who were partially wounded at 22% and those still suffering at 15.2%

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Critics quickly pointed out that only about 15% of those who served in Vietnam saw combat, yet more than 3 times that number had come down with full-blown or partial PTSD. Others found problems with the methods used to conclude whether or not a person really suffered from combat-related trauma. The unlikely conclusions reached by the NRS also prodded the Columbia-Harvard group (those who were conducting the study) to take a closer look at all available information. For example, they used military records and historic accounts to measure exposure to combat stress and check the plausibility of veteran’s accounts of traumatic events.

The researchers concluded that “there appear to be protective factors that reduce vulnerability” to the onset of PTSD and the persistence that causes veterans to relive the stress of combat for years afterwards. The trend towards recovery over time cannot be explained by professionals because less than half the veterans with past war-related PTSD received such treatment, the research note. Investigations of other factors that may contribute to initial resilience and psychological readjustment after traumatic war experience are needed.

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