Vietnam veteran
Vietnam veteran is a phrase used to describe someone who served in the armed forces of participating countries during the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...


The term has been used to describe veterans who were in the armed forces of South Vietnam
South Vietnam
South Vietnam was a state which governed southern Vietnam until 1975. It received international recognition in 1950 as the "State of Vietnam" and later as the "Republic of Vietnam" . Its capital was Saigon...

, the United States armed forces
United States armed forces
The United States Armed Forces are the military forces of the United States. They consist of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard.The United States has a strong tradition of civilian control of the military...

, and countries allied to them, whether or not they were actually stationed in Vietnam during their service. However, the more common usage distinguishes between those who served "in country" and those who did not actually serve in Vietnam by referring to the "in country" veterans as "Vietnam veterans" and the others as "Vietnam era veterans". The U.S. government officially refers to all as "Vietnam era veterans".

In the English-speaking world, the term "Vietnam veteran" is not usually used in relation to members of the communist People's Army of Vietnam or the National Liberation Front.

South Vietnamese veterans

Although exact numbers are difficult to ascertain, it is safe to say that several million people served in the South Vietnamese armed forces, the vast majority of them in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam
Army of the Republic of Vietnam
The Army of the Republic of Viet Nam , sometimes parsimoniously referred to as the South Vietnamese Army , was the land-based military forces of the Republic of Vietnam , which existed from October 26, 1955 until the fall of Saigon on April 30, 1975...

 (ARVN)—between 1956 and 1975. It is known that during 1969–1971, there were about 22,000 ARVN combat deaths per year and the army reached a peak strength of about one million soldiers during 1972. The official number of anti-communist Vietnamese personnel killed in action was 220,357.

Following the communist victory on April 30, 1975, South Vietnamese veterans were rounded up and sent to reeducation camp
Reeducation camp
Reeducation camp is the official title given to the prison camps operated by the government of Vietnam following the end of the Vietnam War. In such "reeducation camps", the government imprisoned several hundred thousand former military officers and government workers from the former regime of...

s, essentially forced labor camps in desolate areas. They were detained without trial for up to decades at a time. After being released, they and their children faced significant discrimination from the communist government. A significant proportion of the surviving South Vietnamese veterans left Vietnam for Western countries, either as boat people
Boat people
Boat people is a term that usually refers to refugees, illegal immigrants or asylum seekers who emigrate in numbers in boats that are sometimes old and crudely made...

 or through the Humanitarian Operation (HO).

United States veterans

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 (VEVRAA) states, "A Vietnam era veteran is a person who
  1. served on active duty for a period of more than 180 days, any part of which occurred between August 5, 1964 and May 7, 1975, and was discharged or released with other than a dishonorable discharge.
  2. was discharged or released from active duty for a service connected disability if any part of such active duty was performed between August 5, 1964 and May 7, 1975.
  3. served on active duty for more than 180 days and served in the Republic of Vietnam between February 28, 1961 and May 7, 1975."

The U.S. Census Bureau (2004) reports there are 8.2 million "Vietnam Era Veterans". Of these 2.59 million are reported to have served "in country".

More than 58,000 US personnel died as a result of the conflict. This comprises deaths from all categories including deaths while missing, captured, non-hostile deaths, homicides, and suicides. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes veterans that served in the country then known as the Republic of Vietnam from February 28, 1961 to May 7, 1975, as being eligible for such programs as the department's Readjustment Counseling Services program (aka Vet Centers). The Vietnam War was the last American war with conscription.

Veterans from other nations

Nationals of other nations fought in the American-led anti-communist coalition, usually as armed forces of allied nations, such as Australia and South Korea, but sometimes as members of the US armed forces.

Australian veterans

Australia deployed approximately three battalions of infantry, one regiment of Centurion tanks, and three RAAF Squadrons (2SQN Canberra Bombers, 9SQN Iroquois Helicopters and 35 SQN Caribou Transports). Approximately 49,000 Australian military personnel served in Vietnam. According to official statistics, 501 personnel died or went missing in action during the Vietnam war and 2400 were wounded. The Australian veterans were very much rejected by the people and the government after returning and did not receive a welcome home parade until 1987, 15 years after the last soldier and national servicemen left Vietnam. The parade was held on October 3. The government did not admit that defoliants such as Agent Orange had disastrous health effects on the veterans until 1992, when they finally accepted research that proved there were links between Agent Orange and health problems suffered by the veterans.

Canadian veterans

During the Vietnam era, more than 30,000 Canadians served in the US armed forces; 110 Canadians died in Vietnam and seven are listed as missing in action
Missing in action
Missing in action is a casualty Category assigned under the Status of Missing to armed services personnel who are reported missing during active service. They may have been killed, wounded, become a prisoner of war, or deserted. If deceased, neither their remains nor grave can be positively...

. Fred Graffen, military historian with the Canadian War Museum
Canadian War Museum
The Canadian War Museum is Canada’s national museum of military history. Located in Ottawa, Ontario, the museum covers all facets of Canada’s military past, from the first recorded instances of death by armed violence in Canadian history several thousand years ago to the country’s most recent...

, estimated in Vietnam Magazine (Perspectives) that approximately 12,000 of these personnel actually served in Vietnam. Most of these were natives of Canada who lived in the United States. The military of Canada did not officially participate in the war effort, as it was appointed to the UN truce commissions and thus had to remain officially neutral in the conflict.

The numbers of US conscientious objectors, draft dodger
Draft dodger
Draft evasion is a term that refers to an intentional failure to comply with the military conscription policies of the nation to which he or she is subject...

s and deserters
In military terminology, desertion is the abandonment of a "duty" or post without permission and is done with the intention of not returning...

 that went to Canada is estimated to be between 30,000 and 70,000 by most authorities.
Some foreign nationals volunteered for the US military, but many more were US permanent residents, who were subject to the draft, if they were male, of draft age, and not otherwise deferred or exempt from service.

New Zealand veterans

Initially, in May 1965, New Zealand provided one 4 gun artillery battery (140 men) with two rifle companies of infantry, designated Victor and Whiskey companies, and an SAS troop arriving later. The New Zealanders operated in Military Region 3 with the Australian forces as part of the ANZAC task force (brigade)based in Nui Dat in Phuoc Thuy Province, North East of Saigon. At the height of New Zealand involvement in 1968, the force was 580 men. New Zealand's total contribution numbered approximately 4,000 personnel. 37 were killed and 187 were wounded. As of 2010, no memorial has been erected to remember these casualties.

South Korean veterans

Throughout the Vietnam War, the Republic of Korea sent slightly over 300,000 servicemen to Vietnam. At the peak of their commitment, the ROK maintained a force of approximately 48,000 men in the country.

Negative stereotypes of Vietnam veterans and efforts to overcome

There are persistent stereotypes about Vietnam veterans as psychologically devastated, bitter, homeless, drug-addicted people who had a hard time readjusting to society, primarily due to the uniquely divisive nature of the Vietnam War in the context of U.S. History
History of the United States
The history of the United States traditionally starts with the Declaration of Independence in the year 1776, although its territory was inhabited by Native Americans since prehistoric times and then by European colonists who followed the voyages of Christopher Columbus starting in 1492. The...


That social division has expressed itself by the lack both of public and institutional support for the former servicemen expected by returning combatants of most conflicts in most nations. In a material sense also, veterans' benefits for Vietnam era veterans were dramatically less than those enjoyed after World War II. The Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act
Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act
The Vietnam Era Veterans' Readjustment Assistance Act of 1974 is an Act of Congress in reference to Vietnam era veterans, disabled veterans, and any veterans who served active duty time during a war event that qualifies for a campaign badge.-Overview:The law requires that employers with Federal...

 of 1974, as amended, , was meant to try and help the veterans overcome this.

In 1979, Public Law 96-22 established the first Vet Centers, after a decade of effort by combat vets and others who realized the Vietnam veterans in America and elsewhere (including Australia) were facing specific kinds of readjustment problems. Those problems would later become identified as post-traumatic stress disorder
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Posttraumaticstress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity,...


In the early days, most Vet Center staffers were Vietnam veterans themselves, many of them combat veterans.

Some representatives of organizations like the Disabled American Veterans started advocating for the combat veterans to receive benefits for their war related psychological trauma. Some U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital personnel also encouraged the veterans working at the Vet Centers to research and expand treatment options for veterans suffering the particular symptoms of this newly recognized syndrome.

This was a controversial time, but eventually, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs opened Vet Centers nationwide. These centers helped develop many of the debriefing techniques used nowadays with traumatized populations from all walks of life.

The Vietnam veterans who started working in the early Vet Centers eventually began to reach out and serve World War II and Korean vets as well, many of whom had suppressed their own traumas or self-medicated for years.

Veterans, particularly in Southern California, were responsible for many of those early lobbying and subsequent Vet Center treatment programs. These men founded one of the first local organizations by and for Vietnam veterans in 1981 (now known as Veterans Village).

Vets were also largely responsible for taking debriefing and treatment strategies into the larger community where they were adapted for use in conjunction with populations impacted by violent crime, abuse, manmade and natural disasters, and those in law enforcement and emergency response.

Other notable organizations that were founded during this period included the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies
International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, , was established on March 2, 1985 in Washington, D.C. for professionals to share information about the effects of trauma...

 and the National Organization for Victim Assistance. These organizations continue to study and/or certify post-traumatic stress disorder responders and clinicians.

There are still, however, many proven cases of individuals who have suffered psychological damage from their time in Vietnam. Many others were physically wounded, some permanently disabled. However, advocates of this point of view ignore the many successful and well-adjusted Vietnam veterans who have played important roles in America since the end of the Vietnam War
Vietnam War
The Vietnam War was a Cold War-era military conflict that occurred in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia from 1 November 1955 to the fall of Saigon on 30 April 1975. This war followed the First Indochina War and was fought between North Vietnam, supported by its communist allies, and the government of...

 such as Al Gore
Al Gore
Albert Arnold "Al" Gore, Jr. served as the 45th Vice President of the United States , under President Bill Clinton. He was the Democratic Party's nominee for President in the 2000 U.S. presidential election....

, Fred Smith
Fred Smith
-In literature:*Frederick Smith, 3rd Earl of Birkenhead , British peer and author*Frederick E. Smith , British author*Frederick M. Smith , American religious leader and author-In medicine:*Frederick W...

 (founder and president of Federal Express), Colin Powell
Colin Powell
Colin Luther Powell is an American statesman and a retired four-star general in the United States Army. He was the 65th United States Secretary of State, serving under President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2005. He was the first African American to serve in that position. During his military...

, John McCain
John McCain
John Sidney McCain III is the senior United States Senator from Arizona. He was the Republican nominee for president in the 2008 United States election....

, Craig Venter
Craig Venter
John Craig Venter is an American biologist and entrepreneur, most famous for his role in being one of the first to sequence the human genome and for his role in creating the first cell with a synthetic genome in 2010. Venter founded Celera Genomics, The Institute for Genomic Research and the J...

 (famed for being the first to map the human genome), and many others.

In popular culture

The Vietnam veteran has been depicted in fiction and film of variable quality. A major theme is the difficulties of soldiers readjusting from combat to civilian life. This theme had occasionally been explored in the context of World War Two in such films as The Best Years of Our Lives
The Best Years of Our Lives
The Best Years of Our Lives is a 1946 American drama film directed by William Wyler, and starring Fredric March, Myrna Loy, Dana Andrews, Teresa Wright, and Harold Russell, a United States paratrooper who lost both hands in a military training accident. The film is about three United States...

(1946) and The Men (1950). However, films featuring Vietnam veterans constitute a much larger genre.

The first appearance of a Vietnam veteran in film seems to be in the film Hi, Mom!
Hi, Mom!
Hi, Mom! is a black comedy film by Brian De Palma, and is one of Robert De Niro's first movies. De Niro reprises his role of Jon Rubin from Greetings...

(1970) in which vet Robert de Niro
Robert De Niro
Robert De Niro, Jr. is an American actor, director and producer. His first major film roles were in Bang the Drum Slowly and Mean Streets, both in 1973...

 films pornographic home movies before deciding to become an urban guerrilla. Bleaker in tone are such films as The Hard Ride
The Hard Ride (1971 film)
The Hard Ride is a 1971 action film about a U.S. Marine who promises to take care of a dead buddy's motorcycle, and is threatened by a rival biker gang in the process. The film was written and directed by Burt Topper, and stars Robert Fuller, Sherry Bain, and Tony Russel....

(1971) and Welcome Home Soldier Boys (1972) in which returning vets are met with incomprehension and violence.

In many films, like Gordon's War
Gordon's War
Gordon's War is a 1973 action film written by Howard Friedlander and Ed Spielman, and directed by Ossie Davis. It stars Paul Winfield as Gordon Hudson.-Synopsis:...

(1973) and Rolling Thunder (1977), the veteran uses his combat skills developed in Vietnam to wage war on evil-doers in America. This is also the theme of Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver
Taxi Driver is a 1976 American drama film directed by Martin Scorsese and written by Paul Schrader. The film is set in New York City, soon after the Vietnam War. The film stars Robert De Niro and features Jodie Foster, Harvey Keitel, and Cybill Shepherd. The film was nominated for four Academy...

(1976) in which Robert de Niro plays Vietnam veteran Travis Bickle who wages a one man war against society whilst he makes plans to assassinate a presidential candidate. Apparently this film inspired John W. Hinckley to make a similar attempt against President Ronald Reagan
Ronald Reagan
Ronald Wilson Reagan was the 40th President of the United States , the 33rd Governor of California and, prior to that, a radio, film and television actor....

. In a similar vein is First Blood
First Blood
First Blood is a 1982 action thriller film directed by Ted Kotcheff. The film stars Sylvester Stallone as John Rambo, a troubled and misunderstood Vietnam War veteran, with Sheriff Will Teasle as his nemesis and Colonel Samuel Trautman as his former commander and only ally...

(1982) which features John Rambo
John Rambo
John Rambo is an iconic fictional character and the basis of the Rambo saga. He first appeared in the 1972 novel First Blood by David Morrell, but later became more famous in the film series, played by Sylvester Stallone...

 (Sylvester Stallone
Sylvester Stallone
Michael Sylvester Gardenzio Stallone , commonly known as Sylvester Stallone, and nicknamed Sly Stallone, is an American actor, filmmaker, screenwriter, film director and occasional painter. Stallone is known for his machismo and Hollywood action roles. Two of the notable characters he has portrayed...

 in an iconic role), as a Vietnam vet who comes into conflict with a small town police department.

Such films as Welcome Home, Johnny Bristol (1972) and The Ninth Configuration
The Ninth Configuration
The Ninth Configuration, is an American-made film, released in 1980, directed by William Peter Blatty...

(1979) were innovative in depicting veterans suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, before this syndrome became widely known. In Born on the Fourth of July
Born on the Fourth of July (film)
Born on the Fourth of July is a 1989 American film adaptation of the best selling autobiography of the same name by Vietnam War veteran Ron Kovic. Tom Cruise plays Kovic, in a performance that earned him his first Academy Award nomination. Oliver Stone co-wrote the screenplay with Kovic, and also...

(1989) Tom Cruise
Tom Cruise
Thomas Cruise Mapother IV , better known as Tom Cruise, is an American film actor and producer. He has been nominated for three Academy Awards and he has won three Golden Globe Awards....

 portrays disenchanted Vietnam veteran Ron Kovic
Ron Kovic
Ronald Lawrence Kovic is an anti-war activist, veteran and writer who was paralyzed in the Vietnam War. He is best known as the author of the memoir Born on the Fourth of July, which was made into an Academy Award–winning movie directed by Oliver Stone, with Tom Cruise playing Kovic...

 who, wounded in action and wheel-chair bound, leads rallies against the war. A more recent example is Bruce Dern
Bruce Dern
Bruce MacLeish Dern is an American film actor. He also appeared as a guest star in numerous television shows. He frequently takes roles as a character actor, often playing unstable and villainous characters...

's portrayal of a down-and-out veteran in the film Monster (2003).

In television, service in Vietnam was part of the backstory of many characters in the 1980s and 1990s, particularly in police or detective roles. For some, their military history was rarely referred to, such as MacGyver
MacGyver is an American action-adventure television series created by Lee David Zlotoff. Henry Winkler and John Rich were the executive producers. The show ran for seven seasons on ABC in the United States and various other networks abroad from 1985 to 1992. The series was filmed in Los Angeles...

, Rick Simon of Simon & Simon
Simon & Simon
Simon & Simon is an American detective television series starring Gerald McRaney and Jameson Parker.-History:The original 1978 pilot called Pirate's Key was set in Florida...

, or Sonny Crockett on Miami Vice
Miami Vice
Miami Vice is an American television series produced by Michael Mann for NBC. The series starred Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas as two Metro-Dade Police Department detectives working undercover in Miami. It ran for five seasons on NBC from 1984–1989...

. To a degree, writing in a Vietnam background can be attributed simply to logical chronology, but also served to give these characters more depth, and explain their skills.

Thomas Magnum of Magnum, P.I.
Magnum, P.I.
Magnum, P.I. is an American television series starring Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum, a private investigator living on Oahu, Hawaii. The series ran from 1980 to 1988 in first-run broadcast on the American CBS television network....

, Stringfellow Hawke of Airwolf
Airwolf is an American television series that ran from 1984 until 1987. The program centers on a high-tech military helicopter, code named Airwolf, and its crew as they undertake various missions, many involving espionage, with a Cold War theme....

, and the characters of The A-Team
The A-Team
The A-Team is an American action adventure television series about a fictional group of ex-United States Army Special Forces personnel who work as soldiers of fortune, while on the run from the Army after being branded as war criminals for a "crime they didn't commit". The A-Team was created by...

were characters whose experiences in Vietnam were more frequently worked into plotlines. They were part of an early 1980s tendency to rehabilitate the image of the Vietnam vet in the public eye. While they carry emotional scars from their war experiences, they are proud of their service, and are shown fighting on the side of right and justice.

The documentary In the Shadow of the Blade (released 2004) reunited Vietnam veterans and families of war dead with a restored UH-1 "Huey" helicopter in a cross-country journey to tell the stories of Americans affected by the war.

An example in print is Marvel Comics
Marvel Comics
Marvel Worldwide, Inc., commonly referred to as Marvel Comics and formerly Marvel Publishing, Inc. and Marvel Comics Group, is an American company that publishes comic books and related media...

' the Punisher, also known as Frank Castle. Castle learned all of his combat techniques from his time as a Marine as well as from his three tours of combat during Vietnam. It is also where he acquired his urge to punish the guilty, which goes on to be a defining trait in Castles' character.
One of the Survivors In the first Left 4 dead
Left 4 Dead
Left 4 Dead is a cooperative first-person shooter video game. It was developed by Turtle Rock Studios, which was purchased by Valve Corporation during development. The game uses Valve's proprietary Source engine, and is available for Microsoft Windows, Xbox 360 and Mac OS X...

 game is a Vietnam Veteran who often compares living in a zombie apocalypse to Vietnam.

See also

  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
    Post-traumatic stress disorder
    Posttraumaticstress disorder is a severe anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to any event that results in psychological trauma. This event may involve the threat of death to oneself or to someone else, or to one's own or someone else's physical, sexual, or psychological integrity,...

  • Vietnam Veterans of America
    Vietnam Veterans of America
    Vietnam Veterans of America Inc. is a national non-profit corporation founded in 1978 in the United States that promotes the interests of United States military veterans of the Vietnam War era. It is funded without any contribution from any branch of government...

  • Vietnam Veterans Memorial
    Vietnam Veterans Memorial
    The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a national memorial in Washington, D.C. It honors U.S. service members of the U.S. armed forces who fought in the Vietnam War, service members who died in service in Vietnam/South East Asia, and those service members who were unaccounted for during the War.Its...

External links

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