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Mental health workers at readjustment counseling programs for Vietnam veterans hear stories like these every day. The difference is that the stories are now being told by women. At a time when the Reagan Administration's budget cutters are proposing that such programs were to be scrapped, the women who served in Vietnam are beginning to "come out of the closet" and contacting 91 storefront counseling centers around the country. (33)


Most researchers have assumed that since women and men lived through the same war, their reactions to it would have been the same. According to SHAD MESHAD, a former army psychologist in Vietnam and pioneer in Vietnam veterans' storefront counseling centers, although women veterans weren't in the front lines, they saw the worst of the war: an endless procession of mangled bodies across the operating table. They lived in the swirl of wartime romances that often ended abruptly and painfully. They returned home not only to a hostile nation, but to frequent questions about why a decent woman would want to be stationed halfway around the world with so many men. And once at home, women seemed to blame themselves for problems that male Vietnam veterans blamed on the war. (34)


However, the delayed stress syndrome is recognized not only as a man's illness, but also as a woman's. The syndromes range from mild to severe delayed reactions to the stress of war. They include depression, flashbacks, nightmares, guilt, anxiety attacks, suicidal tendencies, migraine headaches, spontaneous anger, alcohol or drug abuse, inability to concentrate, inability to sustain relationships, and avoidance of intimacy. (35)


The syndrome is not peculiar to the Vietnam war. People come out of all wars suffering similar reactions. It is generally if not universally acknowledged, however, that the circumstances of the war in Vietnam exacerbated the syndrome. It was an undeclared war played out in no-win conditions against an enemy who was hard to define or identify; the increasing unpopularity of the war, which Americans increasingly regarded as unjustified; the absence of a unifying commonly accepted ideology that would justify one's presence or actions in Vietnam; and in the end a shameful retreat and anything but a hero's welcome upon coming home.


Many women Vietnam veterans felt better after they got help from the veterans’ readjustment counseling programs. One of them is Ms. VAN DEVANTER who, nine months ago, went through the counseling programs’ process known as "Walking through Vietnam". Since then she has visited scores of storefront centers and training counselors to deal with the special needs of women and in turn urged veterans in these communities, such as MARTHA BELL of Durham, N.C., and CHARLOTTE CAPOZOLI MILLER of Baltimore, to speak out. (36)


Ms. VAN DEVANTER now works in Washington D.C. as Director of Vietnam Veterans of America’s Women’s Project with 6,000 members. She is trying to raise funds for a comprehensive study of the issues unique to women Vietnam veterans. As of March 1981 she has received a $5,000.00 grant from the Playboy Foundation, and she said, "I have been turned down by some of the best foundations in the country, including the Ms Foundation. We are just not a very popular cause." (37)


Like many other veterans’ representatives, intake worker DEBORAH J. HERBEL showed her deep anxiety when referring to President RONALD REAGAN's budget cuts. According to her, more Vietnam women veterans come to her “rap group” at her Venice Veterans Center every day. She said "They absolutely need help. If the grant is cut in September, we don't know what to do." (38)


According to Congressman BONIOR of Michigan, among other budget cuts, four small programs serving Vietnam veterans are expected to be eliminated. Addressing the House of Representatives on March 10, 1981, he said: "The need for the program is clear. VA studies released in the last few years have documented it: Of those who served in Vietnam, 60% faced readjustment problems upon their return, and for 40% the problems remain. 51% of those who served in Vietnam never return to school."



The four veterans’ programs to which he referred are the Readjustment Counseling Program, The Disabled Veterans Outreach, The Veterans’ Cost-of-Instruction Program and the Targeted Technical Assistance Program. From his perspective, the most important program being cut is VA's Operation Outreach, which funds some 91 readjustment counseling centers around the country. Continuing to address the House of Representatives, Mr BONIOR said "The irony of the proposed cut is, perhaps, clearer to us all in the light of the recent return of the hostages from Iran. The contrast between their return and the return of Vietnam veterans has reminded us all of the task we have left undone." (40)


Our government spends billions during the war to provide the best protection for military personnel, with all kinds of equipment, ammunition, supplies, and medical treatment. Then after they have served, the veterans are forgotten and isolated.


It is the responsibility of the American people and the Government to acknowledge the inherent problems of returning war veterans. Let the veterans know their suffering is not useless -- that their time in Vietnam was not in vain.


These returnees need acceptance, understanding, and support systems to regain their trust in our people and our Government. They must regain their pride and self-respect. The Vietnamese people are grateful for the service the American Veterans performed. Why not the same gratitude from their fellow Americans?



* Note: This article appeared in Vietnamese in _______[publication] in 198_. 


(1) "Psychologist Arthur Egendorf discusses why his fellow veterans can't get over Vietnam," People Magazine, April 13, 1981, p.97 


(2) Dullea, Georgia, Women Who Served in Vietnam, Emerge as Victims of War Strain, The New York Times, New York, March 23. 1981


(3) Meyer, Norma, Ex-Nurse recalls the nightmare of Vietnam The Daily Breeze, November 11, 1980


(4) Smith, Marcia, "Wartime experiences change nurse's life," Dallas Times Herald, January 25, 1981


(5) Logan, Gary J. "Fighting loneliness," The Subway Rider's Magazine, January 22, 1981


(6) Id.


(7) Earley, Pete, "The forgotten women of the Vietnam War," The Washington Post, March 25, 1981


(8) Van Devanter, Lynda M. "In memory of the young bleeder, the children, the world..." The Los Angeles Times, May 26, 1980


(9) Gunson, Kathy, "Letters from a woman veteran," Oregon Veteran's Forum, March 1979, Volume II, No.5, p.8


(10) Continelli, Louise "Williamville nurse recounts Vietnam agonies," Buffalo Courier-Express, January 15, 1981, p.14


(11) Id.


(12) Meyer, Norma "Actress confronts post-Vietnam syndrome," Daily Breeze, November 12, 1980


(13) Id.

(14) Id.


(15) Id.


(16) Connolly, Lisa, "Delayed shock of a G.I. entertainer," Los Angeles Times, Los Angeles, January 11, 1981


(17) “Scandal of the heroines of Vietnam," Star, December 29, 1980


(18) Earley, article cited in note 7 above.


(19) Hendrix, Kathleen "Women Vietnam Vets seeking peace of mind," The Los Angeles Times, January 11, 1981


(20) Eric, Bahrt, "Women vets still fighting for rights," The News World, New York February 7, 1981


(21) Connolly, article cited in note 16 above.


(22) Earley, article cited in note 7 above.


(23) Kafer, Kathy, "Vietnam after shock," The New American, January 26, 1981


(24) Id.


(25) Eric, article cited in note 20 above


(26) "Vietnam service left scars on nurses," Dallas Times Herald, January 25, 1981


(27) Elvenstar, Dianne "Mary comes marching home," Los Angeles Hearld Examiner, December 14, 1980


(28) Earley, article cited in note 7 above


(29) Star, article cited in note 17 above


(30) Elvenstar, Diane, article cited in note 27 above


(31) Earley, article cited in note 7 above


(32) Kafer, article cited in note 23 above


(33) Dullea, article cited in note 2 above


(34) Earley, article cited in note 7 above


(35) Hendrix, article cited in note 19 above.


(36) Dullea, Georgia, article cited in note 2 above


(37) Id. (Ms. Van Devanter died on November 15, 2002.)


(38) Herbel, Debora, "Interview at Venice Vet Center," March 19, 1981


(39) House of Representatives, Congressional Record, Proceedings and Debates of the 97th Congress, 1st Session, Washington, March 10, 1981


(40) Id.

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