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PTSD From the Vietnam War

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Updated January 29, 2012

Following a congressional mandate in 1983, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS) was conducted by the U.S. government to better understand the development of PTSD from the Vietnam War, as well as other problems.

The findings from this study were alarming. At the time of the study (middle to late 1980s), among Vietnam veterans, approximately 15% of men and 9% of women were found to currently have PTSD. Approximately 30% of men and 27% of women had PTSD at some point in their life following Vietnam.

These findings, obtained approximately a decade after the end of the Vietnam War, found that for many veterans, their PTSD had become a chronic (that is, persistent and long-lasting) condition. To examine the longer-term effects of chronic PTSD, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, Columbia University, The American Legion, and the State University of New York (SUNY) Downstate Medical Center surveyed 1,377 American Legionnaires who had served in Southeast Asia in the Vietnam War 14 years after their NVVRS interview in 1984.

The Long-Term Impact of PTSD

Their study found that almost 3 decades after the Vietnam War, many veterans continued to experience problems with PTSD. At the initial interview, approximately 12% had PTSD. Fourteen years later, the rates of PTSD had dropped only slightly to approximately 11%. Those who had experienced high levels of combat exposure were most likely to have PTSD at both interviews.

Veterans who continued to have PTSD 14 years after their first interview were found to have considerably more psychological and social problems. They reported lower satisfaction with their marriage, sex life, and life in general. They also indicated having more parenting difficulties, higher divorce rates, lower happiness, and more physical health complaints, such as fatigue, aches, and colds. Veterans with chronic PTSD were also more likely to be smokers.

Getting Help for Chronic PTSD

The findings from this study suggest that people exposed to severe traumatic events (such as combat exposure) may be at risk for developing chronic PTSD, and persistent PTSD can have a tremendous negative effect on a person's life and physical health.

Even in cases of chronic PTSD, recovery can still occur. Therefore, whether you have been suffering from PTSD for a long time or recently developed the disorder, it is important to seek out treatment if you have PTSD. The Anxiety Disorder Association of America provides links to PTSD treaters in your area. You can also get specific information on PTSD and its treatment for veterans from the National Center for PTSD.

Sources:

Keane, T.M., & Barlow, D.H. (2002). Posttraumatic stress disorder. In D.H. Barlow (Ed.), Anxiety and its disorders, 2nd edition (pp. 418-453). New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Koenen, K.C., Stellman, S.D., Sommer, J.F., & Stellman, J.M. (2008). Persisting posttraumatic stress disorder symptoms and their relationship to functioning in Vietnam veterans: A 14-year follow-up. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 21, 49-57.

Kulka, R.A., Schlenger, W.E., Fairbank, J.A., Hough, R.L., Jordan, B. K., Marmar, C.R., & Weiss, D.S. (1990). Trauma and the Vietnam war generation: Report of findings from the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. New York: Brunner/Mazel.

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