The bitterness enveloping many Vietnam veterans stems more from a "range of intangible hurts" than from a lack of federal benefits, Max Cleland, head of the Veterans Administration, said yesterday.
It is "the range of intangibles that hurts the deepest," Cleland said on the television show "Issues and Answers" (ABC, WJLA).
"Each soldier would like to think that what he did was fine and noble and that his sacrifices made a difference and counted for something. Unfortunately, we don't have that feeling about Vietnam, and we (veterans) have to come to terms with that and pick up our lives and move on," said Cleland, a triple amputee as a result of the war.
In terms of tangible benefits, the country finally is beginning to give most Vietnam veterans their due, he said.
About 65 percent of Vietnam veterans have used the GI bill, with six out of every 10 using it to attend college, he said. While the overall national unemployment rate is 6 percent, the rate for veterans 20 to 34 years old is 4.5 percent, he noted. Also, Cleland said, "The median income of Vietnam-era veterans is better than that of their peer group.
"I think we are beginning to see the Vietnam-era veterans, in general, come into his own!"
Cleland said the problem "lies with certain pockets of unemployment, particularly among minority veterans," whose unemployment rate is 14 percent. It is also in these "pockets" that "we have veterans who, unfortunately, do have alcohol and drug problems."
He said the VA will concentrate its efforts on helping minority veterans and those who, for psychological or other reasons, have failed to "readjust to society."
He said the VA has asked Congress for authority to put together a psychological readjustment counseling program "for those Vietnam-era veterans who need it." A VA spokesman said yesterday that the program would cost about $9.94 million, about 2 percent of the agency's proposed $5.2 billion medical budget.
Cleland said the VA also will move to strengthen its job-training program, which he said is "most effective" for helping unemployed, minority Vietnam veterans.
In a related development, 109 members of Congress who responded to a survey released yesterday divided evenly over whether the government is failing to fulfill its obligation to Vietnam-era veterans.
The poll was commissioned by the Council of Vietnam-Era Veterans and made public for Memorial Day.