• Monthly
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $other
  • use PayPal

ONE WEEK TO DOUBLE YOUR DONATION!

A generous CounterPuncher has offered a $25,000 matching grant. So for this week only, whatever you can donate will be doubled up to $25,000! If you have the means, please donate! If you already have done so, thank you for your support. All contributions are tax-deductible.
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Vietnam Veterans Sue for PTSD

The lawsuit filed in Federal Court on March 3 seeking class-action status for Vietnam veterans with less-than-honorable discharges raises old questions about the origins of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Of great interest are the thin lines separating PTSD’s diagnostic purpose from the roles it has played as a political and cultural concept. In the context of the current lawsuit, a reprise of the situation out of which PTSD arose as a diagnostic category also reveals some ironies.

The five Vietnam veterans named as plaintiffs claim they were wrongfully discharged for disciplinary reasons when their misbehaviors were actually due to the trauma and stress of combat. However, the diagnostic category covering their conditions, PTSD, would not be identified until years after they served, and even then their “bad paper” discharges disqualified them from receiving medical and other veteran’s benefits.

In essence the lawsuit asks that PTSD be recognized as a “wound of war” which would open the way for their discharges to be upgraded and their eligibility for benefits restored. The veterans who are represented by the Yale Law School Legal Services Clinic estimate there are tens of thousands of others in similar circumstances.

The case is interesting because the behavioral and medical issues we see tangled in it are threads that run back to the war in Vietnam. Midway through the war, American news sources began carrying reports of dissent within the military ranks. Some acts of resistance to military authority rose to open rebellion and refusal to carry out orders. In the fall of 1969 some soldiers in Vietnam wore black arm bands in support of the Moratorium Days against the war being held back in the states, while a few entire units even declined orders to go on patrol during those days. Low-level acts of resistance such as working-to-rule, misuse of equipment, and drug and alcohol abuse were common in Vietnam by that time, and while desertion and violence against officers, known as “fragging”, were not, they were frequent enough to raise real concerns about mission readiness.

In 1971 former Marine Colonial Robert Heinl wrote in the Armed Forces Journal that moral and disciplinary problems within the military and Vietnam in particular had brought battle-worthiness to an all-time low. The only way to save the military, it seemed, was to get out of Vietnam.

By 1972 the war was lost, if not quite over. The dissent spawned in Vietnam was spilling over at home into a veteran’s movement supporting the national reluctance for more war, the malaise later known as the “Vietnam Syndrome.”  The anomaly of Veterans opposed to their own war was a troubling challenge to conventional approaches to post-war issues. Out of that discordance came responses by the press establishment, mental health professionals, and the White House that converged to forge a new way of thinking and talking about the problems posed by veterans. That new discourse begun in the early 1970s as the vague psychological term “post-Vietnam Syndrome” culminated in the professional acceptance of PTSD as diagnostic category in 1980.

If not intended as such, the psychologizing of what had been to that point viewed as political had the effect of recasting veteran radicalism as “cathartic,” a form of “acting out”—the trouble coming home from Vietnam as politically empowered veterans would be stigmatized as troubled and treated as an illness.

Some of the veterans potentially in the class covered by the current suit may have been plain old “bad apples” whose misbehavior while in uniform having nothing to do with resisting abusive authority or the higher motives of pacifism. But many more of those individuals are likely connectable with the political and counter-cultural currents that swept the country and the military in the 1960s and 1970s. One need only to see the 2006 documentary film Sir! No Sir! about the in-service anti-war movement to be reminded of that. They were embraced by the activist community and provided legal services by professional volunteers.

It is ironic that the soldier and veteran dissent that helped end a war that many Americans agree today should have never been fought was discredited and historically obscured by the same mental health label that is now sought in their behalf.

The mixed legacy of PTSD aside, there is no gainsaying the right of many of those veterans to the respectability they deserve, the health care they need, and the decency of the lawyers championing their cause.

Jerry Lembcke is Associate Professor of Sociology at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam and  Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal. His newest book is PTSD: Diagnosis or Identity in Post-empire America? He can be reached at  jlembcke@holycross.edu.

 

 

More articles by:

Jerry Lembcke is Associate Professor Emeritus of Sociology at College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is the author of The Spitting Image: Myth, Memory and the Legacy of Vietnam and  Hanoi Jane: War, Sex, and Fantasies of Betrayal. His newest book is PTSD: Diagnosis or Identity in Post-empire America? He can be reached at  jlembcke@holycross.edu.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
October 17, 2019
Steve Early
The Irishman Cometh: Teamster History Hits the Big Screen (Again)
Jonathan Cook
Israel Prepares to Turn Bedouin Citizens into Refugees in Their Own Country
Stan Cox
Healing the Rift Between Political Reality and Ecological Reality
Jeff Klein
Syria, the Kurds, Turkey and the U.S.: Why Progressives Should Not Support a New Imperial Partition in the Middle East
George Ochenski
The Governor, the Mining Company and the Future of a Montana Wilderness
Charles Pierson
Bret Stephens’ American Fantasy
Ted Rall
The First Thing We Do, Let’s Fire All the Cops
Jon Rynn
Saving the Green New Deal
Ajamu Baraka
Syria: Exposing Western Radical Collaboration with Imperialism
Ajamu Baraka
Syria: Exposing Western Radical Collaboration with Imperialism
Binoy Kampmark
A Coalition of Support: Parliamentarians for Julian Assange
Thomas Knapp
The Down Side of Impeachment
Harvey Wasserman
What Really Happened to American Socialism?
Tom Engelhardt
American Brexit
October 16, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
How Turkey’s Invasion of Syria Backfired on Erdogan
Chitrangada Choudhury – Aniket Aga
How Cotton Became a Headache in the Age of Climate Chaos
Jack Rasmus
US-China Mini-Trade Deal: Trump Takes the Money and Runs
Michael Welton
Communist Dictatorship in Our Midst
Robert Hunziker
Extinction Rebellion Sweeps the World
Peter A. Coclanis
Donald Trump as Artist
Chris Floyd
Byzantium Now: Time-Warping From Justinian to Trump
Steve Klinger
In For a Dime, in For a Dollar
Gary Leupp
The Maria Ramirez Story
Kim C. Domenico
It Serves Us Right To Suffer: Breaking Down Neoliberal Complacency
Kiley Blackman
Wildlife Killing Contests are Unethical
Colin Todhunter
Bayer Shareholders: Put Health and Nature First and Stop Funding This Company!
Andrés Castro
Looking Normal in Kew Gardens
October 15, 2019
Victor Grossman
The Berlin Wall, Thirty Years Later
Raouf Halaby
Kurdish Massacres: One of Britain’s Many Original Sins
Robert Fisk
Trump and Erdogan have Much in Common – and the Kurds will be the Tragic Victims of Their Idiocy
Ron Jacobs
Betrayal in the Levant
Wilma Salgado
Ecuador: Lenin Moreno’s Government Sacrifices the Poor to Satisfy the IMF
Ralph Nader
The Congress Has to Draw the Line
William A. Cohn
The Don Fought the Law…
John W. Whitehead
One Man Against the Monster: John Lennon vs. the Deep State
Lara Merling – Leo Baunach
Sovereign Debt Restructuring: Not Falling Prey to Vultures
Norman Solomon
The More Joe Biden Stumbles, the More Corporate Democrats Freak Out
Jim Britell
The Problem With Partnerships and Roundtables
Howard Lisnoff
More Incitement to Violence by Trump’s Fellow Travelers
Binoy Kampmark
University Woes: the Managerial Class Gets Uppity
Joe Emersberger
Media Smears, Political Persecution Set the Stage for Austerity and the Backlash Against It in Ecuador
Thomas Mountain
Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize, But It Takes Two to Make Peace
Wim Laven
Citizens Must Remove Trump From Office
October 14, 2019
Ann Robertson - Bill Leumer
Class Struggle is Still the Issue
Mike Miller
Global Climate Strike: From Protest To Power?
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail