One of the most persistent myths of the Vietnam War is that most Vietnam veterans, deeply ashamed of their service, often drug abusers, haunted by memories of the atrocities they've committed, and suffering from "post-traumatic stress", are failures in life. It is alleged that tens of thousands of them have committed suicide, while many others are time bombs waiting to explode, as demonstrated by numerous headlines "Vietnam Vet Goes Berserk." For more than 25 years we've seen this in movies, tv shows, journalistic articles, and even songs. In fact, Vietnam vets sometimes do have problems. Post-traumatic stress commonly has the following symptoms: fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, headache, muscle or joint pain, disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating. But the veterans of every war usually suffer from stress. After the Civil War, much was made of veterans suffering from "irritable heart" or "nostalgia." Symptoms were fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, headache, muscle or joint pain, disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating. World War I veterans sometimes suffered from "shell shock." Symptoms were fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, headache, muscle or joint pain, disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating. After World War II and Korea, some veterans were noted to have "combat stress reaction." Symptoms were fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, headache, muscle or joint pain, disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating. And two decades after Vietnam, there are a generation of combat veterans who came down with "Gulf War syndrome." Common symptoms of this are fatigue, shortness of breath, palpitations, headache, muscle or joint pain, disturbed sleep, forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating. And the Gulf War was shorter and a lot less intense than any of the other conflicts mentioned above. There seems to be a pattern here. "Post-Traumatic Stress" (PTS) is a common problem afflicting soldiers--and others who have spent time under great pressure--when they return to "normal" life. As General Sherman said "War is hell," and anyone caught up in it is marked forever. Vietnam was a more intense war than WW2 or Korea. American troops saw more combat, overall, than their fathers did a generation earlier. Some people can handle PTS better than others. After a short time "in the world," most veterans adjusted to everyday life. It helps if the public makes the veteran feel that his service and sacrifice were praiseworthy and appreciated. Unfortunately, in the aftermath of Vietnam, there was a certain lack of respect shown for veterans by many civilians. Unlike WW2, where the nation was behind the troops, Vietnam saw a very vocal group of Americans who energetically disapproved of the troops (this was a minority of those who disapproved of the war). The image of the Vietnam vet was not helped by the occasional instance in which one did "go berserk," often getting widespread play in the media. One estimate has it that about 500,000 veterans were afflicted by PTS, less than 20% of those who served. About 10% of the PTS sufferers had the more extreme "post-traumatic stress disorder" (PTSD). They have had great difficulty reintegrating, and are prone to anti-social behavior, substance abuse, unemployment, and other serious problems. This is nothing new. In fact, there was a lot of veteran violence immeidately following WW2. So much that the cartoonist Bill Mauldin had one of his now-veteran pair, "Willie and Joe," reading to the other from a newspaper, saying "Here's one ... 'Ax Murder, No Veteran Involvement'." No one thought much of the 1940s veterans "going berserk," largely because there were over 15 million WW2 vets in the population, and they could sympathize with the poor guy, knowing where he was coming from. Vietnam veterans seem no less well-adjusted than were those of the nation's earlier wars, although perhaps public awareness and tolerance of problems among them has been more acute. There have been a few genuinely objective surveys of Vietnam vets. These suggest a different picture than the one commonly given. The following is from Peter Bourne's Men, Stress, and Vietnam (Boston: Little, Brown, 1990). 91% of Vietnam veterans were proud to serve, and 74% believe their service was necessary. The overwhelming majority (92%) received honorable discharges, the same percentage of those who served in the 1950s. Nor have most of them found adjustment to civilian life difficult. 88% made the transition "with few or no problems," and the average income of Vietnam vets is about 18% higher, and their unemployment rate lower, than than for their non-veteran contemporaries. Drug abuse patterns among Vietnam veterans and non-veterans of the same era are not particularly different (remember, this was the period of "turn on, tune in, and drop out). Fewer than 0.5% of vets have been in jail, in contrast to a national incarceration rate of 1.5%. Perhaps the most persistent myth is that Vietnam veterans have committed suicide in extraordinary numbers. Figures ranging from 50,000 to 150,000 are casually tossed about, rates six to sixteen times higher than the norm for Americans of the same age and sex. If these numbers were true, it means that more Americans have killed themselves than were killed in Vietnam, as many as 300% more. So prevalent was this assumption that the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) undertook "The Vietnam Experience Mortality Assessment," part of a series of studies intended to identify patterns of dysfuntion among Vietnam vets. The CDC determined that by 1987 there had been some 9,000 suicides among Vietnam vets. Vietnam veterans were about 1.7 times more likely than the "average" American to commit suicide within 5 years of their discharge. However, after that initial 5 year post-discharge period, deaths from suicide fell below that for society as a whole. In the thirty years since this study, the figure has probably risen to about 15,500, still within the normal range for Americans.