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Vietnam Vets Might Be on American Soil, but They Never Really Came Home

In 1975, the long war in Vietnam came to an end, and American troops streamed home.

Technically, anyway. Many veterans still hear detonating bombs in their nightmares or feel the heat of adrenaline as they relive their worst moments, again and again.

Forty years later, many Vietnam vets still suffer from full-fledged, war-zone-related PTSD or some symptoms of it. Too many — about 271,000, according to a recent study. And over a third of those individuals experience major depressive disorder.

The recent investigation looked into prevalence of PTSD, acting as a follow-up on the (alive and willing) participants of a similar study in the 1980s. The findings shocked researchers: 10.8 percent of male vets and 8.7 percent of female vets suffer from full-fledged PTSD or sub-threshold PTSD (in which sufferers experience some symptoms of PTSD but not enough to be diagnosed with the disorder). Researchers applied this to the whole population of Vietnam vets and discovered that hundreds of thousands are affected.

That’s not all. They also found that 16 percent of the original PTSD cases have seriously worsened, whereas only 7.6 percent of original cases have significantly improved.

Yikes! How did this happen? There are several factors that could have potentially contributed:

  1. Age. As Vietnam vets grow older and head toward retirement, changes take place in the body and mind. New stressors and old memories begin to crop up, fueling and worsening PTSD symptoms.
  2. Willingness to receive help. Many vets — regardless of when or where they fought—don’t access treatment. And is it any wonder? In the midst of their service, they suffered unspeakable horrors; they watched their comrades and friends die, faced bullets soaring at them, and perhaps even danced with death. These memories are extremely painful and difficult to face. Experiencing them as unwanted flashbacks is hard enough. Can you imagine actively reliving them?
  3. One-size-fits-all treatments. Even if vets did access treatment, it might not do much good. An even more recent study found that current psychotherapy treatments like cognitive processing therapy (CPT) and prolonged exposure therapy (PE) are less effective than we once hoped; as many as two-thirds of treated vets (from several different wars) still experience symptoms after the fact.

That last factor is crucial. The VA is trying to de-stigmatize the issue to encourage more vets to seek help, but if treatments aren’t as effective as they could or should be, there’s no point. We need to work toward changing this. Encourage VA Secretary Robert McDonald to look into providing other therapy options for those affected by PTSD. Vietnam vets served our country; in return, we need to serve them.

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A. Stout is a Whovian, Potterhead, study abroad alumna, and animal lover. A native to West Michigan, she dreams of publishing novels and traveling all over the world.