Sergeant Jackson* fought in Vietnam in the early 1970s, then left the active military and spent the next 30 years working as salesman, raising a family, and serving in the Army Reserves. In late 2004, Sergeant Jackson deployed to Kuwait overseeing a unit of people who ferried men and women through the country and into Iraq. He claimed to have never suffered mental injury—such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or traumatic brain injury (TBI)—yet; in Kuwait he began having Vietnam-related nightmares, which bled into depression and suicidal thoughts. He later redeployed, leaving his unit and finally putting in for retirement from the US Army.
Sergeant Jackson’s story is not unique, but seems uncommon given the current narrative regarding veterans, war, and mental injury. However, according to a report by the Chicago Tribune, at one veterans’ treatment facility in Chicago, “more Vietnam veterans are reporting symptoms of late-onset PTSD.” Mental health specialists believe that as the Vietnam Veteran population ages—according to Vietnam Veterans of America, the average age is 64—and experiences significant life events like retirement, deaths of civilian family and friends, and children growing-up can trigger a “late onset” PTSD, although many experts believe the PTSD was there all along.
For Vietnam veterans like Sergeant Jackson and those interviewed in the Tribune article, these soldiers were not afforded many of the benefits that current generation of veterans enjoys. In fact, during the early days of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, it was Vietnam veterans who led the charge at home to ensure that what happened to them—in terms of treatment by the US government and its anti-war citizenry—never happened again. In light of the staggering rate of veteran suicide—old wars drink new blood 22 times per day—it is clear that the spectre of war lingers long after the battlefield falls quiet.