A small, but significant, portion of Vietnam War veterans still experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) even 40 years after the war ended, according to the results of a survey-based study.
When examining veterans over the course of a 25-year period, 10.8%, or about 271,000, of male “theater veterans” – those who served in the Vietnam theater of operations – reported experiencing current clinical and subthreshold war-zone PTSD symptoms based on CAPS-5 criteria, said Charles Marmar, MD, of New York University’s Langone Medical Center…
More than a third (36.7%) of all veterans with PTSD directly related to the war also experienced comorbid major depression. In addition, 30.9% met the criteria for current major depressive disorder…
Marmar told MedPage Today that he was surprised at the persistence of symptoms for veterans over the course of time.
“We did know that PTSD symptoms could persist in a minority of war fighters, or civilians for that matter, but it was surprising to find that 11% of those who served in the Vietnam theater had either PTSD or significant symptoms of PTSD that interfered with their functioning,” he said. “So the persistence was an important finding…”
Marmar said he did the study not only to honor the Vietnam generation and answer some questions for them, but to see what the road ahead may look like for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
“Nobody has known before this study what the true lifetime effects of military service are on psychological health in an epidemiologically drawn, representative sample,” he said. “People have done studies of longer term effects of war, but not in a proper sampling frame where you’re getting a picture of every man and every woman from all branches of the services in all levels of combat…”
While not involved with the study, Gary J. Kennedy, MD…told MedPage Today…that the results demonstrated the majority of veterans did not suffer from PTSD or depression. However, he pointed out that for those who were impacted, there may be inadequate resources to offer assistance.
“The optimistic finding of rather remarkable resilience is contrasted by the complicated needs of those who do not recover,” he said. “Just as in the post Vietnam era, the VA is not adequately funded to meet the mental health needs of returning service personnel…”
He concluded that similar to World War II veterans, Vietnam war veterans also deserve quality care for their physical and mental well-being, both from clinicians and from the nation itself.
My closest friend till his death was a WW2 vet who still had occasional bouts with PTSD – and little substantive help from the VA. Fortunately, one of his main areas of study – courtesy of the GI Bill – was in psychology and he did a pretty good job of managing things on his own. Still, I’ll never forget a couple of times when he was roused unexpectedly from a sound sleep and thought he was back in Bastogne.