All the males I knew in high school were subject to being drafted and sent to Vietnam. It was simply a fact of life. Like their fathers before them, they went when they were called up to serve their country. Those who saw combat paid a heavy price and those who survived continue to pay, to this day.
Their PTSD driven guilt and shame led to Vietnam veterans having a divorce rate above 90%. More than 500,000 were arrested or incarcerated, with an estimated 100,000 in prison, and 200.000 on parole. 50% to 75% tried to ‘self medicate’ away their pain with drugs and alcohol.
According to a 2009 report by the National Coalition for the Homeless, “The United States Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that 131.000 veterans are homeless on any given night, and approximately twice that many experience homelessness over the course of a year. Conservatively, one out of every three homeless men who is sleeping in a doorway, alley or box in our cities and rural communities has put on a uniform and served this country……47% of homeless veterans served during the Vietnam era.”
A report by The National Coalition for Homeless Veterans estimates that “..on any given night 200,000 veterans are homeless, and 400,000 veterans will experience homelessness during the course of a year, and according to the VA, 97% of those homeless will be male.”
And of course, there is the suicide rate for Vietnam veterans. According to a report by Chuck Dean, executive director of Point Man International, a non-profit organization based out of Seattle, a VA doctor estimated the number of Vietnam veteran suicides at about 200,000 men. He said “The reason the official suicide statistics were so much lower was that in many cases the suicides were documented as accidents, primarily single car drunk driving accidents and self inflicted gunshot wounds that were not accompanied by a suicide note.” The report added “According to the doctor, the under-reporting of suicides was primarily an act of kindness to the surviving relatives.”
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs in a report released in February 2013, the average veteran suicide rate is twenty-two every day, or an average of one every sixty-five minutes, and more than sixty-nine percent of veteran suicides were of individuals aged 50 years, or more. The truth of the matter is that it is impossible to have an accurate count. Not all suicides leave a note or are found with a bullet in their head and a ‘smoking gun’ in their hand. In fact, very few veteran suicides are that obvious. All too often, veteran suicide comes in a far more subtle form and those deaths are attributed to other causes (i.e. drugs, alcohol, ‘accidents’, etc). As of 2010, the national accidental death and suicide rate for veterans was 14,000 per year, 33% above the national average.
So far, we Americans have never had to experience life in a war zone back here at home. Our veterans have gone overseas to fight, in order to spare us that horror. It is to our shame that we have allowed our veterans to suffer such conditions. They were our children, spouses, parents and friends, and we seem to have turned our backs on them.
Oh, we thank today’s veterans for their service (unlike our treatment of Vietnam veterans). We might even give them the occasional obligatory parade, but for the most part, we turn our backs. It is not only the Vietnam veteran that has to fight the VA for their benefits (some have gone for years waiting for help, and some never received any help, at all), it is the veterans returning from every war since Vietnam that find themselves in the same situation, and as evidenced in the current VA scandal, some have even died, while trying to get in to just see a doctor. We have not even begun to see the tip of the iceberg of problems that today’s returning veterans will encounter.
There is a difference between those who go to war, and those who do not. There is a Grand Canyon sized gap between the two and it is not possible for anyone that has not experienced combat to understand the feelings of someone that has. The combat veteran coming back to the world encounters a civilian population that is completely alien, just as the civilian population finds that veteran is a complete stranger, no matter how close a relationship they had in the past; and that civilian population seems to prefer to blame the veteran for the problem, rather than accept any responsibility. It is as if they are each on a different plane, and neither can relate to the other. The veteran is unable to simply just “get over it.” And the civilian seems unwilling to try to understand and accept veterans, as they are, in order to help them heal.
These are some of the reasons I wrote “Heirs of Honor”. I hope by sharing my story I can help other veterans and their families & friends understand this whole concept a little better.
Unfortunately, the history of the Vietnam veteran seems to be repeating with the veterans of today. Shame, America, shame.