The report, published in the journal Science and viewed by experts as authoritative, found that 18.7 percent of Vietnam veterans developed a diagnosable stress disorder that could be linked to a war event at some point in their lives, well under the previous benchmark number of 30.9 percent. And while the earlier analysis found that for 15.2 percent of the veterans the symptoms continued to be disabling at the time they were examined, the new study put that figure at 9.1 percent....It's interesting to learn this now, when there have been so many articles -- in the NYT, in particular -- about the way the Iraq war is debilitiating the minds of those who doing the fighting.
The researchers pored over data from the original 1988 study, and checked it against extensive military records and records of exposure to combat. They found that many servicemen in noncombat roles were exposed to considerable horrors, from shelling and ambushes to caring for the wounded, and that very few exaggerated their experiences.
But a number of veterans whose difficulties were diagnosed as post-traumatic disorder developed it before serving in the war. Others developed symptoms that could not be linked to any specific traumatic event — a crucial element in the diagnosis. And there were some veterans who exhibited symptoms, like nightmares, that were not severe enough to be disabling.
I wonder how much of the stress the Vietnam vets suffered came from the way Americans treated them after the war. Not only did a lot of people regard them as war criminals, but a lot of us uncritically slid into accepting a Hollywood-influenced image of the Vietnam vet as a woeful shell of a man, if not a raging nut.