The Public’s Image of PTSD and the Vietnam Veteran

Are we all crazy?  Does PTSD ever go away?

How many Hollywood movies have painted a positive picture of Vietnam Veterans compared to movies that show Vietnam veterans as angry, violent, dangerous drug users and/or alcholics (mostly brought on by PTSD)?

Three Vietnam Veterans that I know of have run for President of the United States.  All three lost.

Al Gore served in Vietnam as a reporter/journalist for five months. He Gore was stationed with the 20th Engineer Brigade in Bien Hoa and was a journalist with The Castle Courier. He received an honorable discharge from the Army in May 1971.

Of his time in the Army, Gore later stated, “I don’t pretend that my own military experience matches in any way what others here have been through […] I didn’t do the most, or run the gravest danger. But I was proud to wear my country’s uniform. And my own experiences gave me strong beliefs about America’s obligation to keep our national defenses strong.” He also later stated that his experience in Vietnam “didn’t change my conclusions about the war being a terrible mistake, but it struck me that opponents to the war, including myself, really did not take into account the fact that there were an awful lot of South Vietnamese who desperately wanted to hang on to what they called freedom. Coming face to face with those sentiments expressed by people who did the laundry and ran the restaurants and worked in the fields was something I was naively unprepared for.”

John Kerry reported for duty at Coastal Squadron 1 in Cam Ranh Bay in South Vietnam on November 17, 1968. In his role as an officer in charge of Swift boats, Kerry led five-man crews on a number of patrols into enemy-controlled areas. His first command was Swift boat PCF-44, from December 6, 1968 to January 21, 1969, when the crew was disbanded. They were based at Coastal Division 13 at Cat Lo from December 13, 1968 to January 6, 1969. Otherwise, they were stationed at Coastal Division 11 at An Thoi. On January 30, 1969, Kerry took charge of PCF-94 and its crew, which he led until he departed An Thoi on March 26, 1969, and subsequently the crew was disbanded.

On January 22, 1969, Kerry and several other officers had a meeting in Saigon with Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, the commander of U.S. Naval forces in Vietnam, and U.S. Army General Creighton Abrams, the overall commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam. Kerry and the other officers reported that the “free-fire zone” policy was alienating the Vietnamese and that the Swift boats’ actions were not accomplishing their ostensible goal of interdicting Viet Cong supply lines.

John McCain requested a combat assignment, and was assigned to the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal flying A-4 Skyhawks. His combat duty began when he was 30 years old, in mid-1967,  during the Vietnam War. McCain and his fellow pilots became frustrated by micromanagement from Washington, and he would later write that “In all candor, we thought our civilian commanders were complete idiots who didn’t have the least notion of what it took to win the war.”

John McCain became a prisnor of war on October 26, 1967.

He was flying his 23rd bombing mission over North Vietnam when his aircraft was shot down by a missile over Hanoi. McCain fractured both arms and a leg ejecting from the aircraft. Although McCain was badly wounded, his captors refused to treat his injuries, beating and interrogating him to get information; he was given medical care only when the North Vietnamese discovered that his father was a top admiral.

Does John McCain suffer from PTSD?

George Bush, Karl Rove exploit John Kerry’s PTSD in 2004

What is your opinion about the public image of Vietnam Veterans? Do you think these three men lost the White House because they served in Vietnam?

Discover A Prisoner of War for Life


Lloyd Lofthouse is a former U.S. Marine, Vietnam Veteran, journalist and award winning author.

His second novel is the award winning love story and suspense-thriller Running with the Enemy. Blamed for a crime he didn’t do while serving in Vietnam, his country considers him a traitor. Ethan Card is a loyal U.S. Marine desperate to prove his innocence or he will never go home again.

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3 thoughts on “The Public’s Image of PTSD and the Vietnam Veteran

  1. I’m in the final stages of publishing TEARS OF THE DRAGON, my recollections of my 1969-70 Army service in Vietnam. Book should be out Jan 1. Here’s what I have to day about PTSD:

    Some of the postraumatic stress syndrome (PTSD) identified among Vietnam War veterans must have had its
    roots in the wracking boredom of garrison duty. In an article
    in the 1999 Oxford Companion to American Military History,
    author Harvard Sitikoff maintains that PTSD afflicted as
    many as 700,000 Vietnam veterans. During my 1969-70 year
    in Vietnam the ratio of support troops to infantry troops—
    the so-called tooth-to tail-ratio— was at least 3 to 1. Some
    sources state that this tooth-to-tail ratio was as high as 15 to
    1 during the duration of the war. With 65% or more of U.S.
    troops in Vietnam operating in a support capacity, it seems
    an inescapable conclusion that many who suffered emotional
    damage from their Vietnam experience never saw combat.
    Conjecture is hazardous here. Sensitivity comes not only
    from the politics and emotions that swirl around the subject
    of PTSD in Vietnam, but from the light it sheds on veterans
    of other American wars. Every war has had its victims of
    post-war depression. For an array of reasons, one of the important ones having to do with the advancement of psychiatry,
    the emotional plight of men and women from earlier wars
    was not as highly publicized as that of Vietnam War veterans.
    It is not difficult to understand how anyone faced with the
    horror of combat and killing might suffer emotional trauma.
    Yet, PTSD in Vietnam must have had as much do to with
    non-combat circumstances as with battlefield trauma. This
    stands to reason when so many Vietnam veterans did not see
    combat. The politics of the Vietnam War may have biased
    journalistic and medical research devoted to Vietnam veterans
    with PTSD so as to infer that in every case postwar emotional
    damage to GIs was due to the horror of the battlefield. None of
    this discussion acknowledges the majority of GIs in Vietnam
    who were trapped in the confines of military bases for a year,
    and forced to experience the trauma of their own individual
    fears and anxieties. This gaping oversight not only distorts
    the nature of PTSD, it also fails to convey important lessons
    on the nature of the Vietnam insurgency. It was precisely
    the intention of the out-manned and out-gunned Viet Cong
    insurgency to create these emotions. Such practices are used
    today in Iraq and Afghanistan by small groups of insurgents
    who set out to control much larger populations through fear.

  2. Thank you for the comment. It is insightful. Until now, I never considered that fear would be enough to bring on PTSD symptoms. Now I see how it is possible. I agree that before Vietnam, trauma from serving in a combat zone in the front lines or in support positions was ignored. Vietnam was such a public war tried in the media and by political groups with agendas that did not understand what was going on. Never before has a war been examined so closely under a magnifying glass like the Vietnam War. It causes me to wonder if this will affect America’s ability to defend itself against enemies like the insurgents in Iraq and Vietnam. Is it possible that to win a war, we must grow a thick skin to the suffering it causes? Can we fight war with a set of rules that did not exist in Korea and World War II and win? What is more important, the survival of our culture or the minds of our military men? TEARS OF THE DRAGON is a great title.

  3. Trained Killers | The Soulful Veteran's Blog

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