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The precursor of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Post-Vietnam syndrome was the name behavior scientists and mental health professionals gave to a series of psychosomatic symptoms they noticed in veterans returning from the Vietnam War. These symptoms included nervousness, irritability, jumpiness, chronic insomnia, and a survivor's guilt wrought from a deep-seeded melancholia over lost comrades.

The syndrome might have slipped into the proverbial pit of fad diseases (such as today's rampant anti- depressant usage), if not for the persistent 1970s media-image of the crazed Vietnam Vet. Movies such as Taxi Driver and Apocalypse Now reflected such national headlines as

"Vietnam Vets Seize Statue of Liberty"1

and

"Vietnam Veteran Held in Boston After Firing on Imaginary Enemies."2

This image of the psychotic veteran sent the mental health community searching for a cause, and the one they generally agreed upon was national neglect. It was no secret how unpopular the Vietnam War was. So when the veterans came home they felt at best neglected, and at worst a symbol of everything wrong with the war.

They were given the cold shoulder.

Unlike other war veterans, who had returned home to parades and a booming economy, the Vietnam veteran returned to irrelevance and a sagging 1970s economy that included a devastating energy crisis. Ignored, unemployed, and stuck dealing with the horrors of war without a ritual celebration to soothe things over, it was only natural that many would snap and fall into criminality.

This recognition of the Vets' plight led to a national sympathy movement that spawned dozens of belated Welcome Home! parades, and Presidents Nixon, Ford, and Carter to declare a "Vietnam Veterans Week" alongside Memorial Day.

Ultimately, all this attention led the American Psychiatric Association to include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a diagnostic category in their Diagnostic and Statistical Manual III (DSM-III) in 1980, a term which emphasized the traumatic origins of post-Vietnam syndrome, and supplanted the original term altogether.


1Washington Post, June 9, 1976
2New York Times, March 5,1979

Source: Shook Over Hell, by Eric T. Dean Jr.

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