Long Term Consequences of Combat

The long-term consequences of service in Vietnam for veterans are defined by physical and psychological changes as well as the variety of ways that veterans approach their public and private worlds. To put it other words, their minds and bodies changed as a result of service, as did their interactions with friends, families and the world at large. But within these broad categories, the reaction of the veterans to service in Vietnam is different for every individual.

Physical changes took a variety of forms, of which wounds are the most obvious. Other physical changes, like heart disease and the variety of illness connected to Agent Orange exposure, took longer to become clear.

The discussion of psychological changes brought about by service in Vietnam has been dominated by the literature on post-traumatic stress disorder, and indeed PTSD loomed large in my interviews. The disorder has affected perhaps 30% of American Vietnam veterans at one time or another in their lives, resulting sometimes in substance abuse, violence, and divorce. But other kinds of changes, including increased self-esteem and pride have resulted from service in Vietnam, as well, and we need to be careful about the generalizations we make concerning the long-term consequences of service.

In this clip, Vietnam veteran Rudy Thomas describes the “invisible wounds” of war in an interview I did with him in 2007. Rudy has since passed away.


Here, Neil Kenny describes the nature of PTSD, as he experiences it.

Video recorded by Sunny Liu.

Below — in a video clip I did not record or produce — Vince McGowan describes the veteran’s experience in New York City after the war, how that lead to the construction of the Vietnam Memorial Wall in New York City in 1985, and the meaning of the Memorial today.