The True Legacy of the Vietnam War



Like most other Vietnam Veterans, I returned home from the Vietnam War to an environment in the United States that viewed Vietnam Vets as possible “baby killers;” resulting from the aftermath of publicity surrounding horrible crimes at My Lai and other lesser known incidents.  Those were indeed terrible crimes, but in no way should they have tainted all Vietnam era Vets.  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 more than 20 years.

When I used my GI Bill benefits and returned to college, I rarely said anything to anyone about serving in Vietnam. I had friends that knew me for years who did not about my service there. I think most Vietnam Vets felt the same way I did. Movies and television shows at the time often portrayed Vietnam Vets as taking part in drug-induced killing sprees. Things did not really start changing on that front until the mid to late 1980s, and part of the credit for that must go to the building of the Wall, whose design was controversial among many Vets who did not like it at that time because it placed a “dark, grave-like” emphasis on the deaths of the more than 58,000 who died.   However, it has proven that it has served as a place for healing those psychological wounds.

As a reporter at The Washington Times from 1983 to 1985, I reported on the controversy surrounding the design and construction of the Wall, and I also reported on many of the Vietnam Vets who began hanging around the Wall at the POW-MIA tents that were pitched close by.  I interviewed many of them and spent the night on the Mall with them several times to observe, watch – and to listen. It was clear to me that many of them were still dealing with difficult issues related to their experience in Vietnam.   There were few programs designed to help them receive needed counseling.  Many had PTSD – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder – but had not received treatment or counseling for it since public recognition of the issue did not begin to become a significant factor until the early 1990s – nearly 20 years after the end of the War.

Now, I am glad to say, things have changed for the better – and are continuing to evolve. There are a host of counseling programs available for Veterans and active duty servicemembers.  VA has been a leader in the treatment of PTSD and has a great suicide prevention program in place through its Veterans Crisis Line that has documented success in preventing thousands of possible suicides. VA’s new outreach program, Make the Connection, is reaching out to Veterans of all eras to help them obtain benefits and services they need and deserve.

Veterans Service Organizations also are conducting massive outreach programs and helping millions of Veterans. One newly formed one called Listening to America’s Veterans is gearing up to provide Veterans with a forum to write and express themselves. It is not intended to provide counseling; rather it is to become an outlet for expression about what is happening with them now that they have returned from the combat zone.  Another new group, Code of Support, has been formed to help Veterans and their family members become aware that the public does in fact support them and that help is available.

These services provided through the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Department of Defense as well as the VSOs were sorely missing in the aftermath of Vietnam. Problems may still exist, but the services and public support are now there as well.  The public attitude about service in the military during times of war now has evolved to “hate the war, not the soldier.” Perhaps the real legacy of Vietnam is just that—never again should America’s service members return home to find the people holding them in disdain for fighting for their country. Separating the soldier and Veteran from the politics of the War is the true, lasting legacy of Vietnam.

William Outlaw is the Director of Communications for the Office of Patient Care Services, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and a Vietnam Veteran.

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William Outlaw

Comments

  1. John L    

    The Veterans Administration medical centers should be privatized, or better give us a medical card for better treatment.
    The VA is more interested in how the front of the building looks then taking care of Veterans.
    Throughout my life the VA has done more damage to me then the Viet Nam war, now that their are only 800,000 thousand that served with boots on the ground they throw us a bone.
    Since the employees have received this wage freeze a lot of them are hostile towards us, not remembering we had a two year freeze.
    The VA is famous for shredding papers burning them in incinerators years ago, and wasting time which have been a hardship on the veteran family’s The staff is just like their countparts inside the beltway lazy, over paid, to many benifits, and most doctors that could not make it in the real world or a ticket for forirghners to get into our country.
    The veteran advocate is a waste of time because complaints about treatment, or conditions are ignored. uSMC 1967-73

  2. Jenn Byrne    

    62 yrs old. The pain will never go away for me of losing him. The Va hospital in Richmond, did me such an in Justus. Was very rude and uncaring. Which most of all are to Vietnam vets. Lies over lies. He was put in a hospice room without my permission.
    Each time I called, I was told that she doesn’t go and check on patients. Only wipes there asses. Yes I have a lawyer in Richmond. Also as we all want to know, why are the VA cleaning up and helping in Vietnam, billions of dollars. We get the shaft.
    are going to help them but not do a dam thing for ours. So I have contacted The Cochran Firm as in Johnny in D.C. to take on the VA, to find out all the truth behind the lies that “ranch hand air force heath study has not revealed. “OPERATION RAMBO” to sue the VA which will make history. I know this is a big taking on. But with all the VFW’s, VVA’s’ American Legions, around the US, a few cents a day in a jar will help pay for them to make HISTORY! Please spread the word. The more collective we have the better it will go. They march on the mall for something every weekend. I live here. They get their cause across. We can too. It won’t be easy. Our vets didn’t have it easy either.
    byrnejen@msn.com – please put in subject area ‘OPERATION RAMBOW’
    JENN IN VIRGINIA

  3. mike    

    I read somewhere in one of these blogs(and i cant seem to find it now but ) it said ,that if you served on the battle grounds in vietnam and have been diagnosed with type2 diabetes from agent orange your C/P should be 100%( I have several other medical problems caused from the diabetes also.). The VA awarded my C/P at 20% for agent orange-diabetes and they currently have me on 1000mg of metformin twice daily. Can someone clarify how the ratings vary so much with the same diagnosis.(from 20% to 100%) I do know of another vietnam vet who also is recieving 100% for type2 diabetes. What does the VA just pick a random figure for C/P?

    1. Charles T. Cauthen- Combat Vet    

      Mike, they gave you 20% because they wanted to give one of their cronies a $30,000.00 bonus. You don’t get 100% unless you’re in with one of the good ole VA boys or it’s guaranteed you’re not gonna live more than a few months.The way they figure dissability percentage is a total reinvention of math and quality of life. In other word, if you can still breath, you’re not 100%.Do some research on the DVA via internet and you’ll realize what you’re up against. VARC don’t even believe their own VA doctors. I’ve met VN vets who are still able to work, take no meds, go to VA hosp twice a year for check up and are getting 100% disability. The VA says one thing to Congress and the public and does just the opposite to a VN vet.

    2. Jenn Byrne    

      Go to the VA web site and look under comp and benifits.

  4. Charles T. Cauthen- Combat Vet    

    Hey Mr. Outlaw, Why don’t the VA do a commentary on Hep C. Why want the VA disclose the truth about the thousands of us Vietnam vets who came home with hep C. They want the world to believe we are all drug addicts or we got what we deserved. One of the biggest problems with the VA is their credibility. The look pretty guilty trying to hide the truth. A lie is still a lie no matter how many times you deny it. The VA is it’s own worst enemy. It’s base is lies and corruption and stealing benefits from deserving veterans. Their self greed will destroy them.

  5. Ann    

    Be a squeaky wheel, let the mediaand you congressman know the problems your are having. I had a congressman help with my husband who is 100%. I also went throught the local television when I couldn’t get him on Social Security. It is amazing what the radio, Television and newpapers can do that we can’t, to get our husbands and friends their help. I am a firm advociate of let the public know what is happening to our VietNam vets and their families. After 9/11 they are put on the back burner and we must let the public know we won’t go away weare here and we need help.

    1. rc    

      Your absolutely correct Ann, we do need help. I really feel sorry for those vets who are disabled and dont have spouses or loved ones to keep tracked of all this prolonged and unnecessary stuff the VA puts these vets through. My husband is on 20 different meds from the VA and he is lucky if he can remember what day of the week it is now. He would never be able to stay on top of all this but he does have me, and i will fight tooth and nail to see that the VA provides my husband with what he so deserves.(and long over due) Im sorry but i would never ever let my son enlist in anything , like my husband did, after seeing and living through all this term oil. The only thing the VA knows how to do is provide pills, after pills, after pills. (and im not so sure thats even the correct thing for them to be doing for my husband)

  6. Jim Nolan    

    As a 2 tour Vietnam veteran who loves this country. So dearly I put my claim in 2000 2004,2010 for hept c now at stage 4 and PTSD, rejected on hept c and still waiting on PTSD which on all cases more than enough prove. Lost record I have about a year to live this is what VA wants,you to go away. Jim

    1. Charles T. Cauthen- Combat Vet    

      Jim, Please don’t go away. The VA knows we , thousands of us got hep C from Vietnam. They want compensate because it cost too much. They need that congressional money for millions in bonuses and pet projects, contractor buddies and down right internal thievery. Fight the VA with all you got. There are thousands of us fighting their denials. You are not alone, we will expose the truth to this country, what the VA is really about.

    2. rc    

      Jim, sry to hear that your experiencing what so many other vietnam vets are. We also have been waiting over 1 1/2 years to hear anything on my husbands PTSD claim. He has been awarded C/P for agent orange related disabilities but they are saying the PTSD claim is still in stage one( meaning nothing has even been looked at yet-why in the world does it take this long for PTSD claims before someone from the VA even looks at it? How did you know it got lost? When we call all they say is the same thing over and over again, its still in stage one. How do we find out if it got lost? Im so thankful we decided to seek out private counseling for my husbands PTSD, god only knows how long it would take the VA to admit anything or to provide the help he needs.

  7. David Ames    

    What a bunch of lies, the AZ VA has not work an Vertans in over one year due to a court order to only handle Vets with hearts conditions and they are working file from other states to comply with this court order, how do I know because my 7yr old file is on hold, got the truth from AZ VA.

    Have have been lying to all AZ Vets, if you have an AZ claim then just go doem and ask the question ” Whos case has been work over the last year”.

    1. David Ames    

      I just recevice a letter from the VA and telling me that they are sorry for the delay in working my claim and are now moving forward working the claim.

      They are now covering them self for stop working claims over the last 18 months by sending out these letters.

      Have to sit back and see if this is a new turnover for them to clean up the backlodge

  8. Charles T. Cauthen    

    What kind of gov. poisons it’s own troops, concedes to it and then denies 2 million Vietnam vets for 43 yrs, it didn’t harm them. Claim denied. What kind of gov. uses it’s own military troops for experimental drugs without their concent or knowledge? The DVA is involved in genecide of Vietnam veterans, has been for years, and gets away with it. They deny us our lives. We should do something about that.

    1. Mike    

      Charles , What do you mean by the gov. using experimental drugs? Are you saying that the drugs they perscribe could be used for experimental research? Also you stated that the dva is involved in genecide of vietnam vets, i thought they were there to help the vets? Are you saying you believe its all a scam for the Vietnam Vets only?

      1. Charles T. Cauthen- Combat Vet    

        Mike, Do your research. The Gov. (DOD&DVA) know fully well what they have done. Gov. research shows they know. But they lie and deny it, or refuse to say anything. In 1998 the DVA was paying 7,000 VN vets compensation for agent orange. They claim 2 billion to 92,000 VN vets last year for AO. Do the math! In 2000, 98,000 vets filed claims for agent orange, 78,000 were denied. The VA health care here in Fl. want even discuss or mention AO. They will do nothing about any disease you have pertaining to AO. I currently know 5 VN vets receiving 40- 80 % compensation from VA, nothing to do with AO. I’ve had 6 friends die from dioxin exposure. I’m dying from AO exposure, the VA gave me 30% for heart disease and a bad aorta valve. Every single vet VN I know and talk to has been given the shaft by the DVA. Do some background checking on the people running the VA. They’re all PROFITEERS. I have never been so abused by anyone like the VA health care treated me, I wouldn’t let them treat my dog. The waiting game they play is just that, delay, deny, hope you die.Sure they pick out a few individuals to compensate then use them in their propaganda, look what we did! Denying a Vietnam Combat veteran decent health care and low ball compensation is genocide. They’ve done it since 1974 and are still doing it today. You better dam well believe they administer experimental drugs to vets, XPUltra. The vaccines given to Iraq vets was experimental antidotes to Saddem’s WOMD. The DVA uses vets to scam money from taxpayers for their own benefit. It still is the largest collection of crooks and criminals in the world.
        CT Cauthen
        173rd Airborne, VN combat vet

  9. Jenny Taylor    

    Hello William thank you for sharing your experiences. I agree that often there is an unjust negative stigma attached to Vietnam war veterans that has been further spread through negative portrayals in film and television. Instead of raising up these war heroes we often treat them poorly. It really is a shame and I hope this begins to change soon. I am glad to see that things are working out well for you. As a civilian I want to thank you for your sacrifice, you are an American hero and should not hide but be proud of your service to your country.

  10. Mike Straw    

    really enjoyed your story. I can truly relate. I’m a USMC Vietnam Vet and was an intelligence communications scout assigned to the 7th MarReg @ LZ Baldy (#63). I came home and was called all sorts of names before and after I used the GI Bill for college. I was confused and turned to alcohol (which ruined my first marriage, besides other things). I went through years of addiction & rage problems and finally got my “act” together when I met, fell in love with and married my wife of 27 years. I still have some anger issues and see a VA doctor, but all is under control. I will continue to deal with PTSD, probably for the rest of my days, but my mind rests easier and I have a loving family & support unit to help.
    God Bless you and all our brother and sisters.

    Mike S.

  11. s harris    

    no one knows the true outcome of this war. my husband served in vietnam and was wounded there leaving him 100+% disabled. he lived a happy life until he turned up with hepatitis c which resulted in liver cancer which took his life in less than 2 years. how? – from the blood transfusions he was given when he was injured and also because he was serving in an area where his type of cancer is from. now as a widow i am trying to make ends meet on the meager amount of funds that the VA gives me. because of his disability i was a stay at home wife/mother in order to assist him when he needed help getting around places in his wheelchair. returning to the work force after 30 years was very difficult. however, the biggest insult to me has been the VA’s refusal to pay off the specially adapted home they helped him build. as a single person i struggle daily trying to make ends meet. where is the help for me and other widows because i’m sure i’m not the only one in this situation.

  12. Ann Lang    

    Thank you. My husband suffers from TBI at least that is what it is called now. He is 100% disabled however as a wife of a VietNam era TBI I have no benefits the post 9/11 wives have. I am not the only wife with this problem just one who is willing to ask when do we get the help they do, our families suffered like they are now. How do we repair this?

  13. don smith    

    I applied for va disablity in 1996 at louisville,ky va for ptsd after I had been going to a va treatment center for about a year and when i told the va rep my reasons for my ptsd he laughed at me– I waited and was turned down for disabilty–even through I was dianosed with ptsd at the va dupont treatment center–still go thru hell every day just trying to live a “normal” life???????????

  14. Ramon Espinosa    

    William Outlaw your write well; as a Vet from that area, people were nasty and the left fostered that hate for over 20 + years but I have a suggestion why don’t yo get on Fox TV
    say Bill o’Reilly and explain these views of yours to the general public who still don’t get it
    I like you went to Collage and always said to the protester ” what have you done fpr your Country” that usually shut them up.A French Coronal said you cant win a War from Paris.
    He was Right 100 % include Washington with that point

  15. John Roane    

    things might have improved in some areas; the overall message from our media is they are all PTSD, suicidal, homeless or just non-functional. They sweeten it up by saying the poor veterans and beat that drum to the 99% of Americans everyday all day, which when repeated long enough to those with little personal military contact (the 99%) they begin to believe that it is true and applies to all veterans. Give us a break print this news of homelessness, PTSD, suicide and non-functionalism with the stats of veteran verse the general population. Don’t tell me there is an equal civilian job, like cops as they have one of the safest jobs in America.

    In case you don’t know the military today makes up less then 1% of the population and since 1776 it is less then 2% and that is where I get the 99% from today’s numbers.

  16. RC    

    I also would like to know if there is any other vietnam veteran that has finally tried to open up and explain what they endured while in vietnam. At times now ,it seems things have gotten worse. I as a wife of a vietnam vet, which ive been married to for 20years now(but he was married twice prior to our marrage) am finding it really hard to deal with all this term oil we are getting. I never knew what my husband endure while in vietnam, and now i see why he never wanted to say anything or talk about it not even to me. I really at times find myself feeling guilty when i would ask about the war and he would get very angry and not want to talk about it .For years i couldnt understand why.(but i do now) It doesnt make it any easier for me or our family but at least we know why he is the way he is today.

  17. RC    

    Well said William and so true. But maybe you can respond to my question. With the new law Presidant Obama has signed stating PTSD claims are more simplied why in the world does it take years for a vietnam vet to get awarded there benefit. We went to a private doctor(that we pay for) has examined my husband and gave him the same test as the VA did and concluded he is 100% PTSD from the vietnam war. He typed a complete evaluation of his finding , including all my husbands stressors he endured will in vietnam and is now being treated with zanax 3times daily and counseling, still one year later, its still sitting in the first stages(as if nothing has even been looked at) How is this simplified, we have done our part and more to make it easier for the VA. (at least you would think so)

  18. Dan F    

    Well said. I also believe there is one more legacy of Vietnam and that is the all volunteer military.

  19. Nlck    

    A fine article, as a retired 22 vet in 1992 not until last year did I receive nor ask for or receive recognition or a thank you for my service. Nor, did I purposely flaunt my military association. The world is ever so fragile today and freedom is no guarantee. My world wide service experience showed me the importance of guarding and protecting our position as free Americans and how that freedom can change instantly. I agree that the Veteran needs to be separate from the politics of War. We as a populace need to so support and demonstrate gratitude for those that have sacrificed for our freedoms.

  20. Tim Carver    

    “Things have changed for the better”–what planet are you on? I spent almost a year taking C&P exams; was told during my psych eval that I have depression issues with PTSD. Now, 6-months after the C&P’s ended, I have still have no word from the VA. I have been told that I may still be waiting a year from now. Sounds to me like nothing has changed, and certainly not for the better! Our government is well-known for lies, cover-ups, and hidding in beuracary and deviations of facts. Before you jump on the wagon, you should know what you are talking about. It wasn’t very long ago that a Vietnam vet had sought help at the Columbia, SC VA Hospital, was denied, turned away, rejected to the point he killed himself on the hospital doorsteps. Surely you know things are no better, not getting better, and is business as usual. If not, it is time to wake up, open your eyes, and look at the reality!!

    1. rc    

      sry to hear its taking you so long, but ive heard it can take up to 5years. After reading all these horrible comments it makes me wonder if the only way things will be handled in a timely matter is if you hire a private attorney. (which is so unjust, when presidant obama signed into law extra funding so that these PTSD claims would be simplified and done in a timely matter. I dont see anything done timely, so where did this funding money go?????

      1. LCB    

        Keep pushing. Fortunately a servicemember can begin the work of going through the VA process up to 6 months prior to discharge. Make at least one, preferrably two, coppies of both your medical/dental records and your service record (CERTIFIED!!). Lock one away in a safe place. Get with your local chapter of the DAV or American Legion and have them do an initial screening, they will catch things which qualify as disabilities that most of us would miss. Even if the initial award is 0% for a particular disability it is on record and when it gets worse as you age then the percentage can be adjusted. This is MUCH easier than getting a new disability added months, years, or decades later. My father, who is a Vietnam Vet and 83 years old is just getting lokked at for Agent Orange because when he retired in 1979 he thought everything was ok and he just wanted to be done with it.

        In 2004 I began the work in february prior to my retirement in June. I am ‘rode’ hard and put away wet in many ways, and before I retired I was rated at 60% (50% and above and ALL of your medical is covered, not just the service connected stuff). I received my first VA Disability check and my first Retirement check in my bank account the same day. I was assigned a primary care doc, and had an appointment within the first 30 days and had referrals to specialists within the first 90 days.

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