This story covers sensitive topics such as mental health and suicide
It is not uncommon when exploring the ‘Land of the Free’ to witness the homeless crisis that is striking the country. It is even less uncommon for those homeless to be veterans of the Vietnam war. So why are homeless retired personnel disproportionally Vietnam veterans? Why was Vietnam so different from other conflicts for returning veterans? And What issues face both active and returning military personnel today?
According to The military wallet and research conducted in 2012, over 1 in 10 homeless people in America are veterans. Their studies also show that the veteran population is twice more likely to become chronically homeless than other American groups despite 85% of homeless veterans having a high school or GED certificate.
Within homeless veterans, 47% are Vietnam veterans.
This is more than any other conflict. 17% were involved in post-Vietnam conflicts, and 15% fought in conflicts prior to Vietnam.
Roughly 56% of all homeless veterans are African American or Hispanic.
Why Vietnam was different:
The Vietnam conflict was different for America and for returning veterans in a number of ways. The war that ran from November 1955 to April 1975, was considered the first truely televised conflict. Combined with an era focused on peace not war, the Tet offensive conducted by the Viet Cong shed light on the surging conflict in the region for Americans back home. The combination of these elements contributed to the public backlash to the war.
On top of this, despite the United States winning the majority of their battles against the Viet Cong, the conflict was still considered a political defeat. This was something The United States was not use to.
Unlike previous conflicts such as World War One and World War Two, Vietnam veterans returned to a cold and unsympathetic public with the weight and embarrassment of defeat on their shoulders.
The Veterans also struggled to gain access to the same G.I Bill benefits that World War Two soldiers had used to jumpstart their education or careers.
An archived New York Times article from 1972 discussed the struggles for Vietnam veterans and reported that: “Only about a quarter of the 5.5 million eligible veterans who left the service since early 1965 have taken full advantage of the GI Bill’s education allowances to finish high school or attend college.” Many suggesting frustration with the Veteran’s Association and the unrealistic allowance rate for anyone below middle-class or without family to support them.
It is unsurprising that roughly 45% of homeless Veterans suffer from mental illness and slightly more than 70% suffer from alcohol or other drug abuse problems. As The Washington Post explains, upon their return trauma experienced by Vietnam Veterans was not helped by feelings of exploitation by their own government, mission failure, as well as separation from civil society.
America began to repair it’s relationship with veterans in the 80s and 90s, when the Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated in 1982, and the Gulf War in the early 90s brought the American public back onside with the military.
Today mental health is still a significant issue for returned servicemen and women.
On the 16th of December, it was reported that Australian commando Kevin Frost who in 2016 revealed information regarding the execution of a Prisoner Of War in Afghanistan had been found deceased. According to ABC, more than 400 former and serving Australian Defence personnel have taken their own lives and Prime Minster Scott Morrison has announced that his government will consider a Royal inquiry into veteran suicide for the country.
Ukraine has had similar problems with a surging number of both active-duty and returned servicemen suicides; And the United States has seen a steady increase of active duty suicides in all branches except the Air Force.
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