As one of more than nine million Veterans who served in Vietnam and other parts of the world during the Vietnam era from 1955-75, I am especially grateful that we are now being officially recognized and thanked for our service. Today, a coordinated nationwide campaign is being led by the Department of Defense and supported by VA as part of the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War Commemoration Program. For those of us who served when called upon then, it has been a long time coming.
The recognition is being carried out through a series of events nationwide at which Vietnam Veterans – and Vietnam-era Veterans – are being presented with an official Vietnam lapel pin by top government and military officials. A national event will take place at the Vietnam Memorial in Washington on March 29. In fact, President Donald Trump has signed a proclamation that declaring this date as National Vietnam War Veterans Day.
The amazing impact of a simple “thank you for your service” can be seen by the emotional expression on their faces when Vietnam Veterans receive their special pins at these ceremonies – often in the presence of family members and other Veterans.
Like most Vietnam Veterans, I returned home from the War to a somewhat hostile political environment in the United States. The impact of the anti-War protests across the nation in the late 1960s and early 1970s fostered an anti-Vietnam Veteran atmosphere here at home that lasted for nearly 20 years after the war ended.
Now, I am glad to say, things have changed for the better and are continuing to evolve. The building of the Vietnam Memorial has helped bring about an atmosphere of healing. And there now are a host of counseling programs available for Veterans – and active duty service members. VA has been a leader in the treatment of PTSD and also has implemented high-profile suicide prevention line – around the clock program that has documented success in preventing thousands of possible suicides by Veterans and others. (You can call the Veterans Crisis Line if you or a Veteran you know is in crisis. Dial 1-800-273-8255 and press 1).
At VA we are committed to providing much needed counseling for Vietnam Veterans – indeed, for all Veterans. VA’s Make the Connection web page provides real stories from Veterans about issues they have encountered and how they have dealt with them.
And more is being done to reach out to all Veterans to help them find out about VA benefits and services – a good reference for that can be found on http://explore.va.gov
Our Vet Centers make ongoing group counseling available to those Veterans in remote areas nationwide. In pointing these resources out, this is not to say, however, that problems do not exist; they do, but I am pointing out that comprehensive efforts are now under way to address these issues.
As a result, I believe the real lasting legacy of Vietnam is that never again should America’s soldiers return home to find the people holding them in disdain for fighting for their country. Separating the service member, soldier and Veteran from the politics of the war is the true, lasting legacy of Vietnam. And it starts with a much appreciated “thank you for your service.”
Bill Outlaw served as a security policeman in the U.S. Air Force and was stationed in Vietnam in 1970 at Pleiku and Phan Rang U.S. Air Force bases. He also works at VA’s Veterans Health Administration and is the VHA representative on the Vietnam Commemoration Commission.