PTSD, Suicide and Other Myths About Veterans

Myths exist, historically, to instruct and explain. Back when most people were illiterate, and even before the written word, myths were a society’s way of understanding things that were scary, things we in the enlightened age know to be natural phenomenon. The most important myths were those that comforted the masses, helping them to feel secure in a confusing and frightening world.

The earth opens up and fire engulfs a city because the residents angered the Gods. A child is born with an extra limb, or missing a limb, because the parents planted their crops in the wrong sequence, and without the blessing of the appropriate Deity. People wander off into the woods and are taken by fairies, and if they return at all, it will be with fewer of their previous wits.

Those who act strangely, out of the acceptable societal norms were thought to be either cursed or touched by the Gods; if their oddness was benign and they were generally happy or carefree, it was a blessing, if they were angry, in pain or seemed to be a danger to themselves or others, it was proof of a curse. In either case, their condition was not random, it was the result of an action or inaction on their part. In other words, they were culpable for their affliction.

Myths were the instruction manual of society. Do these things and this is what may befall you. Do these things to protect yourself from those misfortunes.

What do the myths we hold as truths about our military and veterans say about us in this enlightened and educated age? First and foremost, they prove we are not as enlightened or educated as we pretend. We not only hold on to these myths, we actively seek validation of them. Perhaps myths and myth-seeking are part of our primal nature. Perhaps it is a mark of culturally-induced intellectual laziness. My money is on the latter.

Somehow and some when in the past 50 or so years, our society has come to not just believe but accept as indisputable fact a host of negative stereotypes about those who served in our Armed Forces. This is a very interesting read, “Sobering Statistics For The Vietnam War” from the National Viet Nam Veterans Foundation. These are some of the facts which may surprise even those who think they have studied history because as all thinking people know, history and truth are not always one and the same. A few of the most interesting statistics, gleaned from this and other sources-

25% of all personnel who served in country in Viet Nam were draftees;. 66% of all US forces were drafted during WWll.

50% of those sent to Viet Nam came from middle income families, and three quarters of all troops had family incomes above the poverty level

86.3% of those who died in Viet Nam were white; 10.6% were black when blacks of military age represented 13.5% of the US population

34% of blacks who enlisted volunteered for combat arms

There is no difference in drug usage between Viet Nam Veterans and non-Viet Nam Veterans of the same age group (Source: Veterans Administration Study)
Viet Nam Veterans are less likely to be in prison – only one- half of one percent of Viet Nam Veterans have been jailed.

85% of Viet Nam Veterans made successful transitions to civilian life

Given the above, why is the myth that Viet Nam vets are drug-crazed, homeless, dangerous, maladjusted and simply too damaged to live in polite society so popular and pervasive? Of course, part of the answer is Hollywood portrayals; part is the news media’s penchant for publicizing the most sensational stories when they are not sensationalizing non-stories. Part of the answer lies within our educational system.

The progression is simple, and wholly predictable.

Those who objected most vociferously to Viet Nam were on college campuses, where they received degrees that allowed them to become the next generation of the teachers and educators, journalists and film makers. It is their narrative, their experience that became enshrined in our history books nd pop culture. There are important, societal shifts that occurred during this Era that need to be studied, remembered and understood, but perhaps he retelling has all been a bit too one-sided.

Some may think I’m advocating a leftist, liberal conspiracy has been perpetrated but the truth is a lot more complex. There is as much fact in the charge that the anti-War movement of the 60’s was founded and funded by Marxist and Communist foreign powers as there is in the accusation that there were and are capitalists who profiteered from the Wars in Southeast Asia. Neither side is wholly wrong, or wholly right. The problem is, even today one side has had too free a hand in shaping the myths, to all our detriment.

There has been a lot of intelligent and factual discussion and comparison about Viet Nam and what has now become our Nation’s longest war. But, the idea that an entire generation regrets their military service is simply not true. And this is just one of the many things that must be kept in mind when drawing those comparisons, from either the Right or the Left abot the two wars. From the above link-

90% of those who saw heavy combat say they are proud of their service; 74% say they would do it again, knowing the outcome

The statistics aren’t and won’t be known in regards to our current generation of warfighters for many years. But, the above numbers appear pretty accurate, if one takes the time to ask.

There is one other number that deserve highlighting, gives me cause for hope and makes my blood boil, all at the same time. First this –

87% of the public now hold Viet Nam Veterans in high esteem

That is heartening in a couple ways. First, it means that the one-sided narrative hasn’t been as successful as one may fear. It also proves the American people are not as dumb as the media and some of those who can best be classified as intellectual elitists seem to believe. I only wish I could find the original questionnaire for the wording of the query that produced that statistic. I want to know what is meant by, and included in the definition of ‘high esteem’.

That statistic is also cause for concern in regards to the health of the American psyche. There isn’t a single statistic of those who believe Veterans are drug-crazed, dangerous, etc., and unless it is only the 13% not represented in the above number, a portion of the public’s perception of veterans can only be called schizophrenic. They are held in high esteem, but they are scary and dangerous?

There is another issue that 87% number affects, and explains. Again, by the numbers –

2.6 million Americans served in country in Viet Nam, approximately 50% of whom were in combat or regularly exposed to enemy fire

Just over 9 million were active duty during the Viet Nam Era (August 5, 1964-May 7, 1975) with 3.4 million serving in the South East Asia Theater of operations, including offshore, or in Laos, Cambodia and Thailand

As of1995, just over 1.7 million who served in Viet Nam were still alive. Those who claimed to serve in country was over 9.4 million. As of the 2000 Census, there were only just over 1 million Viet Nam combat veterans still alive, but the number of those falsely claiming to have ‘been there’ was up to over 13 million. That number, 13 million, exceeds the total active duty enlistment of the entire Viet Nam Era.

In other words, in 1995, nearly 8 out of 9 who claimed to be a Viet Nam combat vet were lying. The percentage has gotten higher in the last twenty-odd years. All this explains a lot, and is in my opinion as responsible for the commonly believed negative myths about veterans as is some leftist, liberal elitist conspiracy. It also explains why Stolen Valor has seemingly become an epidemic.

For more myth-busting facts about veterans –

Census Facts

Bureau of Labor Statistics

2012 Statistical Abstract on Veterans


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