PTSD in Veterans of the Vietnam War: What To Know

PTSD in Veterans of the Vietnam War: What To Know

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a common mental health symptom for many Veterans once they leave the military. It is a challenging condition to deal with on your own, and it can also affect the Veteran’s families and loved ones.

Those who served in the Vietnam war still frequently struggle with PTSD. PTSD can occur in Veterans who witnessed a traumatic events in service, such as a natural disaster, death, combat exposure, or sexual assault.

When Veterans experience these life-changing events, it is normal for them to have symptoms related to PTSD. 

Key Takeaways:

  • You’ll learn what PTSD is
  • You’ll know how Veterans from the Vietnam War are struggling with PTSD
  • You’ll learn the common symptoms of PTSD
  • You’ll know how to receive benefits for PTSD
  • You’ll know what treatments are available for PTSD

What Is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a psychiatric disorder. When someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event, including natural disasters, terrorist acts, war or combat, or sexual violence, they may develop this condition. PTSD may also arise if someone has been threatened with death, sexual violence, or injury.

Many Veterans experience traumatic events during their active service in the military. Veterans who served in World War II, the Vietnam War, on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan, and more might have this condition.

PTSD and Vietnam

Even decades later, numerous Veterans still experience the effects of the Vietnam War.

Vietnam Vets were the first to have the term PTSD applied to them after returning from the war.

Previously, the symptoms of PTSD were labeled as ‘shell shock’ during World War I and World War II.

PTSD is still a chronic everyday experience for many Vietnam Veterans. In 1983, the government asked the VA to conduct a study on the pervasiveness of PTSD and other postwar psychological issues amongst Veterans like major depression.

This study was the first to look at the prevalence of PTSD amongst Veterans. The study became known as the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study (NVVRS). It gave greater awareness to the community of the prevalence of PTSD amongst Veterans.

The study reported that as many as 15% of Veterans had PTSD after Vietnam. The number and the description of the symptoms made many aware of just how serious PTSD was for military personnel.

Years later, the government asked the VA to do another study to follow up on the results discovered with the NVVRS. This study became known as the National Vietnam Veterans Longitudinal Study (NVVLS) and was conducted in 2013, just 30 years after the first study. 

This study researched the long-term effects of Vietnam on Veterans.

Both studies compared two groups of Veterans. Some were deployed to the Vietnam War, known as theater Veterans, and the other group was those who served during the Vietnam era but were not deployed to the war, known as era Veterans.

The NVVLS had different means of assessing the Veteran’s physical and mental health, which included:

  • A phone interview
  • A self-report survey
  • Another phone interview for randomly selected participants with a mental health clinician

The results from the NVVLS were interesting. It concluded that though many theater Veterans are mentally and physically healthy, there are still many theater Veterans who suffer from PTSD symptoms and other health issues related to their service in the Vietnam War.

These studies’ purposes are to understand better the effects that military service has on Veterans. It also allows the Department of Veterans Affairs to improve care and benefits to effectively address the health needs of Veterans, both recent and long-term.

What Are the Symptoms of PTSD?

According to, symptoms of PTSD can occur a month after a traumatic event or even years after. No matter when they start happening, symptoms of this health condition can negatively affect a Veteran’s life.

There are usually four groups of symptoms that occur with PTSD, each having underlying symptoms.

Intrusive Memories:

  • Recurring memories of the traumatic event
  • Upsetting nightmares or dreams of the traumatic event
  • Flashbacks, moments of reliving the traumatic event as if it were happening
  • Intense emotional distress or physical reactions


  • Avoiding situations in which they have to think or talk about the traumatic event
  • Avoiding people or places that remind the Veteran of the traumatic event

Negative Changes in Thinking:

  • Negative thoughts of yourself or others
  • Memory problems
  • Hopelessness for the future
  • Feeling detached from loved ones
  • Difficulty maintaining relationships
  • Feeling emotionally numb
  • Lack of interest in activities
  • Difficulty experiencing positive feelings

Changes in Physical or Emotional Reactions:

  • Trouble concentrating
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Always being on guard
  • Easily frightened
  • Sense of guilt and shame

All of these symptoms can vary in severity over time for service members. Sometimes, a Veteran will experience more than one symptom when they experience something that reminds them of their traumatic experience. It can also become a chronic condition. 

At any moment that a Veteran feels as though they are struggling with PTSD, they should immediately see a medical professional so that they can find help and treatment.

Receiving Benefits for PTSD

PTSD is widely recognized as a serious mental health disorder that significantly interferes with a Veteran’s life.

It can make a Veteran unable to work or interact with others, leading to complications in civilian life.

If a Veteran feels as though they suffer from service-connected PTSD, they can submit an application either online at the VA website or complete and mail VA Form 21-526EZ to your local VA Regional Office (VARO).

Once they submit their application, the VA may have the Veteran undergo a Compensation and Pension (C&P) exam. This will take place at either the Veteran’s local VA medical center or or third-party medical facility.

The Veteran must attend their C&P exam. Failure for the Veteran to attend this exam will most likely result in a denial of benefits. If there are any valid reasons why a Veteran is unable to attend their C&P exam, they should submit a written reason to the VA to reschedule.

At the C&P exam, a VA or third-party medical professional will determine the severity of the PTSD and whether or not it was service-related.

If the VA does not find that you have service-connected PTSD, or they do not give you a C&P exam, you can submit your own Independent Medical Examination (IME).

A private medical doctor will perform the IME and determine whether or not your PTSD is service-connected. If you want the IME to have more weight with the VA, you should also have your private doctor go through your service medical records, which may contain important information.

After that, you may also send in buddy statements or other documents that help prove your service-connected PTSD.

If, for any reason, your claim is denied by the VA regarding service-connected PTSD, you can appeal that decision.

Treatments for PTSD

There are two main ways in which PTSD is treated. These treatments have proven the best results over time.

  1. Therapy: A Veteran can go to a one-on-one session with a counselor, or they can go to a group therapy session.
  2. Medication: The most frequent drugs prescribed for PTSD are SSRI [selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors] such as Prozac and Zoloft.

Many are aware of the physical and mental damage that PTSD can cause, but it can also cause biological damage.

PTSD can alter the way someone processes memories and responds to situations. It can make it more difficult to sleep and cause heightened reflexes when a Veteran is startled.

If diagnosed with PTSD, a Veteran needs to seek the proper and effective treatment to get better over time.


PTSD is a mental health problem that many Veterans experience, usually caused by a traumatic event. This event does not necessarily have to be combat-related, nor does it have to occur in an active war zone. Some Veterans have PTSD from natural disasters, witnessing a death, or sexual assault.

Even after years of being home, Veterans who served in Vietnam also experience PTSD. Numerous reports have documented the effects of Vietnam, to which many Veterans have mental and physical health problems.

Veterans can undergo many benefits and treatments if they struggle with PTSD. Visit your local VA medical center if you feel as though you have PTSD.

For any more questions that you may have regarding the VA or Veterans benefits, visit our website for more information.


What Is PTSD? | American Psychiatric Association

PTSD and Vietnam Veterans: A Lasting Issue 40 Years Later – Public Health | Department of Veterans Affairs

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – Symptoms and causes | Mayo Clinic

PTSD Treatment Basics | National Center for PTSD

Trauma- and Stressor-Related Psychiatric Disorders | JAMA Psychiatry

Trauma and Violence | Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

DSM-5 Criteria for PTSD | BrainLine

Exhibit 1.3-4, DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for PTSD – Trauma-Informed Care in Behavioral Health Services | NCBI Bookshelf

Berry Law

The attorneys at Berry Law are dedicated to helping injured Veterans. With extensive experience working with VA disability claims, Berry Law can help you with your disability appeals.

This material is for informational purposes only. It does not create an attorney-client relationship between the Firm and the reader, and does not constitute legal advice. Legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and the contents of this blog are not a substitute for legal counsel.

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