The Vietnam veteran has recently been the focus of several highly publicized books and movies. I hope this signals a desire by the American public to take a fresh look at those who served in that war.
Within the federal government, the new look has already begun. Last year, the president ordered a complete review of the needs of, and services to, Vietnam era veterans. The report of this study, known as the Presidential Review Memorandum (PRM), tells a tale of two veterans.
The first returned from service to become a well-adjusted, productive member of society. This veteran is representative of all but a few of the men and women who served in the vietnam era. Sixty-five percent of them participated in GI Bill educational programs after the war, a highter percentage than that for World War II and Korean War veterans. They are the best educated group of veterans in the nation's history, and, significantly, they have a median family income higher than their non-veterans peers.
The other veteran described in the PRM has continuing readjustment problems. A larger number of severely wounded veterans survived this war than ever before, and the rehabilitation problems were unprecedented. But the psychological impact posed the greatest problem. The frustrating nature of jungle warfare, the trauma of combat, the fast pace of change in the America they returned to - all took their toll on those who served. Severe depression, alchol and drug dependence and other forms of social inadaptability are the symptoms of continuing, complex emotional problems.
Using the PRM as a guide, the administration has intensified its efforts to help this "second veteran." A Vietnam Veterans Federal Coordinating Committee has been established to monitor and target federal resources for Vietnam era veterans, and to develop special outreach programs. The Veterans Administration's 1980 budget includes a request for funds to establish comprehensive psychological counseling for Vietnam veterans and their families. Legislation has been proposed to extend the time limit on GI Bill use for Educationally disadvantaged veterans. The VA has also asked Congress for funds to expand capabilities for treating alchol and drug dependence among Vietnam veterans. And provisions have been made to provide for increased veteran participation in training and employment programs, both within government and in private industry.
The two veterans generically described in the PRM have things in common, too. They shared the frustration and bitterness of serving during an unpopular war. They shared the lack of emotional support given veterans of previous wars, forcing them to move virtually alone back into the mainstream of the community. And they still share the knowledge that their war experience is, too frequently, an ugly reminder of the nation's feelings about the war.
The common problem faced by these two veterans - and the almost three million Vietnam veterans they actually represent - is clearly lack of respect for honest service to the country. It's not, however, a problem that can be solved by legislation, or by new administrative programs.
The 95th Congress passed a Joint House Resolution, which the president has signed into law (PL 95-513), establishing May 28 - June 3 of this year as "Vietnam Veterans Week." This will be a one-time opportunity for the people of the United States to put aside their convictions about the people who were called upon to fight it.
The veterans of the Vietnam War never had a ticker-tape parade. They were not often considered heroes. In fact, by many they were considered co-conspirators in some terrible escapade. No wonder today they are "silent" veterans, usually, neither visible nor willing to openly discuss the war. No wonder so many of them feel confused, even guilty.
Vietnam Veterans Week is the opportunity for us all, as Americans, to take a positive step toward healing their wounds, and the country's wounds as well. CAPTION: Picture, President Carter and Max Cleland at the unveiling of the Vietnam Memorial Plaque at Arlington Cemetary last November. By Ken Feil - The Washington Post