- Ann Hollander
The special needs of Vietnam-era vets
Almost 3.5 million members of the military served in Vietnam between 1964 and 1975. Was your relative one of them? This group of veterans continues to face physical and mental health problems.
Agent Orange. This is an herbicide that was widely sprayed during the war. It can cause many illnesses (for instance, some cancers, Parkinson's disease, diabetes and ALS—Lou Gehrig's disease). If your loved one has any of these, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) can help.
Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Vietnam veterans experienced not only the trauma of war, but also a conflicted return home. There was no hero's welcome. No reentry program. This made adjustment to civilian life especially difficult. In fact, 38% of marriages ended within six months of the veteran's return. Those with PTSD grappled with nightmares, anxiety, panic attacks, and depression. Anger control issues were not uncommon.
Even now, a quarter of a million Vietnam vets are dealing with ongoing emotional issues. To cover painful memories and feelings, many vets have turned to alcohol and drugs. And in the decades since returning, many have also become homeless.
Are you an adult child of a Vietnam vet? Your parent's challenges likely influenced family life. You may not feel close to your relative as a result. You may also find it hard to balance your vet's need for eldercare with your own feelings from childhood.
Luckily, the VA has support for both of you
For Agent Orange–related matters, contact the nearest VA Environmental Health Coordinator.
The Vet Center (877-WAR-VETS or 877-927-8387) provides help with PTSD issues. PTSD often reemerges in later life. The VA understands.
The VA Caregiver Support Program (855–260–3274) provides advice on being a vet's family caregiver.
The Veterans 24/7 Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255, press 1) is for you or the veteran. (Also www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat, or text 838255.)
Find a Veteran Service Officer to help your relative file a disability claim for compensation.
Is your relative a Vietnam vet?
Let us help you find support services. As the North Shore and Chicago experts in family caregiving, we at Options for Aging understand the extra cost our fighting men and women paid for serving their country during that turbulent time. Give us a call at 847-868-1445.