The effects on the mental health of these soldiers has led to unemployment, drug addiction, divorce, suicide, and a range of mental illnesses.
A key difference between the Vietnam War and previous wars was the intensity of the level of stress. War has always presented the combat veteran with a difficult situation in regards to stress. However, in World War II the soldier would engage in a battle that would last in terms of days. As the battle subsided, the front lines moved and combat ceased for a period of time. The battles lines were clearly marked and the enemy clearly defined. In Vietnam the soldiers faced a shadowy enemy with no front lines. They were in threat of losing their life 24 hours a day for every day they were in the country. There was no reprieve from the immediate threat of death.
In past wars there were always cases of 'battle fatigue' or 'shell shock', but the Vietnam War redefined this as Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD) and its associated symptoms. While PTSD affects approximately 1 percent of the general population, it is as high as 15 percent among Vietnam veterans 35 years after the end of the war (Mollica et al. 2058-2059). PTSD in Vietnam veterans manifests itself through a variety of symptoms. These include social maladjustment, social phobia, guilt, difficulty controlling anger, joblessness, homelessness, and family strife (Frueh et al. 26). The Vietnam veteran is often faced with a lifetime of substance abuse, acute anxiety, and an inability to fit into a normal social setting.
A problem that faced the returning Vietnam veteran was the negative attitude that society held for a veteran returning from an unpopular war. Army Captain Max Cleland, a soldier who lost both legs and was later elected a US Senator from Georgia explains, "To the devastating psychological effect of getting maimed, paralyzed, or in some way unable to reenter American life as you left it, is the added psychological weight that it may not have been worth it; that the war may have been a cruel hoax" (qtd. in Nicosia 159-160). This effect was even more magnified for the minority veterans who served in disproportionate numbers and came home to face the additional burden of racism. Limited opportunities for blacks after the war resulted in conflicting feelings about the brutality waged against the Vietnamese and resulted in rates of PTSD among black veterans that were significantly higher than among whites (Allen 55). The Vietnam veteran faced the difficulty of PTSD in a world that was unsympathetic and ill-equipped to diagnose and treat the illnesses that the war had inflicted.
The Veteran's Administration (VA) has been traditionally reluctant to recognize and adequately treat PTSD. The VA currently publishes estimates that indicate that as many as 30 percent of the Vietnam veterans suffer from PTSD, which is in excess of some other more conservative estimates ("How Common is PTSD"). However, the availability of resources has not been sufficient to meet the need. The American Psychiatric Association has reported that the reported cases of PTSD have risen by 42 percent in recent years, but funding has only been increased by 22 percent (Mulligan). The problem of under-treatment is also complicated by under self-reporting. Veterans may feel that if they