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The return home

After the war was over and the Australian troops came home, they were angry and confused by the reaction they met. The anti-war protests led to many shunning the soldiers. They were not welcomed home as they had expected they would be. Many veterans felt like they were being blamed for the war - instead of the government.

Unlike returning soldiers from previous wars that century, they were not victorious and there was no big welcome home parade for them. They also came home suffering effects of war that went beyond what had been suffered by veterans from the First and Second World Wars - no one knew how to deal with it. They did not receive an official 'Welcome Home' parade until 1987 - nearly 20 years after the last soldiers left Vietnam. Not surprisingly, many veterans felt their service to their country went unrecognised and un-thanked. See image 1

The psychological effects of the Vietnam War

The Vietnam War was so unlike any other war Australian soldiers had fought in that no one really knew how to deal with the after effects of it. Vietnam was not a war fought on open fronts, with areas of safety to which they could retreat. There had been nowhere to relax in Vietnam, the soldiers had been constantly on alert for the enemy. What made it worse, was that they did not always know who the enemy was. It could be the women and children they thought they were protecting. The result of this was that many Vietnam veterans suffered psychological damage in the form of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). See image 2

Studies have proven that compared with other men of that generation Vietnam veterans have higher rates of psychiatric disorders, heart disease, alcoholism and alcohol-related diseases, as well as a higher suicide rate among their families. Many Veterans just could not cope with the things they had seen and the stress they had lived under for two years. Many veterans also could not understand why they were feeling the way they were. In many cases, PTSD was not diagnosed until years later. By that time a lot of damage had been done, both to the veterans and their families. A lot of the men became emotionally detached from their lives. They felt they could not love or show affection to their wives and children, even years after the war was over. There was also evidence that Australian troops who were involved in spraying Agent Orange to destabilise the enemy, were exposed to dangerous chemicals. This exposure had various impacts such as causing cancer as well as affecting the health of their offspring, in particular, causing abnormalities.

Another of the reasons that many veterans found it hard to settle back into their lives in Australia was the selective nature of the National Service programme. Unlike the world wars where all the young men form an age group had gone off to fight together, the National Service Act (1964) only called up men selectively based on their birthday. This meant that while some young men were fighting in Vietnam, the rest of their peer group was getting on with their lives and careers in Australia. Vietnam veterans returned home to find that life had moved on without them and that they had essentially lost two years of their lives. It also meant that only a very small section of Australian society really understood what the Veterans had gone through. The Vietnam War had become so hated in Australia that no one wanted to talk about it when the Veterans came home - not many people could, or tried to, understand the extreme circumstances those young men had lived through for two years.


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1. What do the letters PTSD stand for?

Psychological Testing Stress Disorder

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Post-Traumatic Stress Dysfunction

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

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