During ones life not many people will make a significant and lasting impression on you.  In my life there have been only a few.  One of these was Gary Martin.  Gary was a career soldier, having joined the army at an early age and served in Korea, Malaya and with the 3rd Battalion Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) and the Training Team (AATTV) in Vietnam.  He retired from the army as a Warrant Officer Class I and spent many years working in the Pacific region before settling in Dubbo with his lovely wife.  Gary died a few years ago from a liver problem, which he believed was caused by Agent Orange.
Gary and I spent considerable time discussing the problems of Vietnam Veterans and how his Vietnam experience impacted on his life.  I promised him I would share his views with other veterans one day in a way they could relate to his experience.  Gary often said that too much had been written on Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which was overly scientific, medically orientated or just too complex for the average reader to understand.  Similarly, numerous books have been written recently about Vietnam but I feel they do not capture the true sentiment or adequately cover the veteran’s view of the PTSD experience and how the condition has impacted on their lives, families and children.  In his latter years Gary’s main aim was to help other veterans and their families, which he did unselfishly.

Gary knew so much about the condition of PTSD, in many ways more than the psychiatrists, psychologists and other allied health workers, because it touched him personally and those around him.  Much of this article is in Gary’s words and I have taken the liberty of sharing them with the reader as well as providing an insight into how the condition may have been influenced by what the veteran went through.
Though Gary was an infanteer, his views are just as applicable to those who served in the other arms and services.  The article is presented in several sections: a brief history of PTSD, the symptoms of PTSD related to real life circumstances, how the veteran’s military training may have contributed to the condition of PTSD, the aftermath of the Vietnam conflict, problems facing veterans, a section devoted to organisations that provide help via various means and other information which may be of use to the veteran and his family.


Stress has always been synonymous with soldiers involved in armed conflict and the carnage of war.  Combat places tremendous psychological strain upon the individual and certain psychiatric conditions can prevent men and women from behaving as they are expected to behave.  The attitudes of military commanders to individuals less brave than their fellows has varied greatly throughout history.  Brigadier P Abraham (1982) points out that as early as 480 BC historians noted that Herodotus Leonidas, King of Sparta dismissed troops he believed ‘had no heart for the fight’ and were unwilling to take their share of the danger during the defence of Thermopylae.  Wellington of the Battle of Waterloo fame, a severe disciplinarian, observed that: ‘… all soldiers run away. The good ones return’.

As Gary Martin once said if, as we are advised by the psychiatric community that PTSD is a by-product of Modern War, then we should begin to look for evidence of the syndrome at the beginning of the century.  This may give us an insight into how the Vietnam veteran may compare with those combatants of other wars.

During the First World War more than 3000 British soldiers were sentenced to death for crimes committed in combat, mostly desertion and cowardice (about 10% of these sentences actually were carried out).  Under the Australian Defence Act, Australian Forces in France were exempt from the death penalty, though 25 Canadian and 5 New Zealand allied soldiers were executed.  Back home, few people knew of the executions and the proceedings of the courts martial were not publicly released. In France the death sentences were announced – and sometimes carried out – in front of troops on parade.  These harrowing ceremonies were supposed to deter potential offenders and keep the divisions fighting.  Stanley Kubrick’s 1955 classic film ‘The Paths of Glory’ which starred Kirk Douglas, clearly showed the hypocrisy of war.  It tells how the French army dealt with a mutiny in World War I.  The generals’ approach to the handling of the situation would now be regarded as ludicrous.  When released in 1955 it was banned in France and her colonies (during the period of the Algerian conflict) and was only allowed to be played in French cinemas in the late eighties.  Today, these men would have been treated as psychiatric battle casualties, rested a short distance behind the front line, given hot food, then returned to their comrades to continue fighting instead of being executed.

Early diagnosis of battle stress (as opposed to cowardice in the face of the enemy or a lack of moral fibre) has centred on battle shock or war neurosis.  Abraham (1982) highlights this shift in thought by citing the change in attitude of Military commanders in Northern France between July and September 1944.  He states that over 20 percent of all wounded in the British Second Army were battle shock victims and that the 6th US Marine Division suffered 2662 wounded in ten days of fighting and also 1287 psychiatric casualties.  Overall, battle shock casualties accounted for one-third of all wounded.  This was probably the first time in military history that the military hierarchy began to identify the psychological impact of combat on the soldier in earnest.

In 1994 Gary Martin presented a paper to a group of health professionals in Dubbo.  In his paper he provided a brief Australian historical overview of war neurosis and attempted to parallel the symptoms displayed as that of PTSD.  He argued that the psychological symptoms displayed by the famous ‘Breaker’ Morant, Witton and Hancock during the Boer war, in which Morant and Hancock were subsequently executed for the alleged murder of a missionary, were similar to symptoms of PTSD today.  If one has the opportunity to view the 1979 Bruce Beresford’s film Breaker Morant (as adapted from Kit Denton’s book The Breaker) one can clearly see the symptoms of PTSD.  When the Australian actor Jack Thompson summed up the defence for Breaker Morant, Witton and Hancock in the film what he was really describing were the symptoms of PTSD:

War changes men’s natures.  Abnormal men seldom commit the barbarities of war.  The tragedy of war is that these horrors are committed by normal men in situations in which the ebb and flow of everyday life have departed and been replaced by a constant round of fear and anger and blood and death.  Soldiers at war are not to be judged by civilian rules.
I find it fascinating that the author of the book had such an incredible insight into man’s reaction to combat.  The book was written and the film made well before the 1980 introduction of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Third edition (DSM-III) which at the time was the psychiatrist’s main reference to the diagnosis of PTSD.

In Gary’s discussion of the First World War he cited the occurrence whereby in the month of July 1916 a single Field Ambulance unit recorded 22 per cent of casualties passing through were deemed to be ‘shell-shocked’.  By 1931 over 7000 World War I veterans were in receipt of a disability pension for ‘war neuroses’.  Relative to those who served in combat from 1915 to 1919 this figure would indicate an undeclared or hidden number of 12,000 plus, not in receipt of a pension.  He goes on to say that during 1944, 14 percent of casualties were judged to be suffering from war neuroses and that these figures did not reflect the final World War II figure nor the psychiatric disorders of prisoners of war.
Gary’s account of the Korean War and the Malayan Emergency (or Confrontation) was dealt with in a cursory manner, as he pointed out that very few accounts of war neuroses of these periods were written.  He did point out that after the Korean War the most severe cases of psychological impairment were found in the prisoner of war survivors.  Other texts he had consulted indicated that there was a percentage increase in the number of evacuated neuroses cases which were marginally greater than the World War II figures cited previously.  His account of Vietnam veterans’ experiences is based on the statistics provided from the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) Report presented to National Parliament in December 1992, which suggests that some 25 percent of Vietnam veterans are currently in receipt of a disability pension for either medical or psychological reasons.
To appreciate the psychological impact of battle on the individual we need to understand the extent of the trauma experienced.  The DMSR III-R categorises PTSD as ‘the development of characteristic symptoms following a psychologically distressing event that is outside the range of usual human experience’ with the emphasis on ‘usual human experience’.  All military medicos, psychologists, soldiers and historians would agree that battle experience is an event that is not what one could regard as ordinary.  As McManners (1993) in his book The Scars of War succinctly describes the experience of war as “going back to living the way the rest of the world lives gives combat veterans serious problems.  Other people have not had their experience.  In being blooded, the soldier has become a member of an exclusive club, which has high membership fees”.

It is very easy for non-Vietnam veterans to play down the combat experiences of Vietnam veterans.  They often put forward the view that they experienced similar trauma in the Great War, Second World War and Korean War so why should Vietnam veterans be treated differently to other veterans? The critics often overlook the uniqueness of the Vietnam conflict.  Vietnam was never a declared war; the tours of duty by soldiers were relatively short by comparison with those endured by their fathers and grandfathers.  The conditions suffered by veterans were peculiar to their cankered war.  An Australian statistical study has shown that infantry soldiers in World War II in any theatre, endured and suffered up to a total of 60 days under combat-like conditions.  An infantryman in Vietnam endured on a comparable scale 300+ days of combat-like conditions.  Although logistics, medical services and rest places were superior to World War II, duration of stress induced conditions was considerably lengthened and became a point, that if making it through ‘this patrols 5 week seek and kill’ after a 10 – 14 day pause it would be repeated again and again for the rest of the tour.  Even the ‘luxury’ of a FSPB 3 week encampment still required day patrols and night ambushes.


Other Major Wars Vietnam
Formal   declaration of war Never   a declared war .. until recently
Enemy   and civilians clearly distinguishable Enemy   and civilians were generally indistinguishable
Conventional   warfare Guerrilla   warfare
Clear   boundaries were defined, operational areas, “the front”, and   “the rear” South Vietnam was the area of operations
Spraying   of defoliants
Major   campaigns and battles with periods of respite Constant   irregular sequences of skirmishes with little or no respite
Soldiers   were patriotic, believed in what they were fighting for. Many   soldiers came to doubt the cause of why they were sent to Vietnam
Major   wars ended with the allies as the victors Vietnam ended as a defeat
Welcomed   home as heroes by society Shunned   by society. Never in Australia’s   military history have returned soldiers been attacked psychologically by   their own people
World   War II soldiers experienced up to a total of 60 days under combat like   conditions A   Vietnam   infantryman endured on a comparable basis 300+ days
A   tour of duty lasted for up to five years, committed until the war ended. Tours   were relatively short in comparison, usually 12 months.
Conventional,   mobile warfare. Highly   mechanised, air mobility and massive firepower.
WW   II soldiers were rotated to their rear lines for a rest on a regular basis.   This was due to the lessons learned in WWI. In   Vietnam   there were no rear lines to escape to for a rest resulting in a continual   psychological stress which continuously existed at the front.
WWII   and Korean War soldiers came into Units for the war’s duration. There were   opportunities to become part of the Unit and to bond with your comrades in   lifelong friendships. Vietnam soldiers did 12 month tours, a   short time for any effective bonding to occur. Replacements came from   Reinforcement Units and were only partly accepted unlike those who trained   and embarked with their Battalion.
Average   age of WWII veteran was 26 years. Average   age of a Vietnam   veteran was 20 years.
Table comparing the Vietnam War with other wars.

Vietnam soldiers fought an enemy that was generally indistinguishable from the village populations they were meant to protect.  The enemy included women and children who might be implicated in setting lethal ambushes and maiming booby traps as well as landmines.  Many soldiers had come to doubt the cause for which they had been sent to Vietnam, in a war which had never been declared and which ended in defeat.  They remembered mates who were killed by accidents and ‘friendly fire’.  Their infantry war had mostly comprised tense, enervating patrols, clad in clothes and boots that were wet for days on end, with constant threats from foul water, unsafe local food, composite rations, skin eruptions, intestinal disorders, malarial infection and a well armed, elusive human enemy.  Their campaign comprised an irregular sequence of skirmishes in which apparent successes were measured by ground half-secured and counts of enemy dead, which might again be innocent villagers.  O’Keefe sums up their unique involvement by stating that it is a testimony to human resilience that in the outcome so few of the young men were mentally and physically broken.  I feel that the experiences of the Vietnam veteran may best be summed up by a joke, which I was recently told.

Q: How many Vietnam vets does it take to change a light globe?
A: How would you know …. you weren’t there.

Throughout all of Australia’s wars and conflicts there have always been disturbed and alienated survivors.  PTSD is a relatively new psychiatric diagnosis, which has recently been associated with combat and has been referred to by a multitude of names over many years.  For example: Soldier’s Heart, Psychic Trauma Neurosis, Nervous Exhaustion, Neurocirculatory Asthenia, Traumatophobia, Shell or Battle Shock (in World War I), Physioneurosis, Anxiety Neurosis, Battle Exhaustion, Battle Fatigue or Combat Neurosis (in World War II), War Neurosis, Delayed Reaction Syndrome, Post War Neurosis, Stress Disorders (in the Korean War), Traumatic Neurosis, Nervous Shock, Compensation Neurosis, Gross Stress Reaction, Transient Situational Disturbances, Survivor’s Syndrome, Post-Vietnam Syndrome (during and after the Vietnam War) and more recently Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Prior to the early Sixties all diagnoses recognised the immediate consequence of the experience of war, whereas PTSD officially recognised the long-term consequences of war. It wasn’t until the early 1980s that PTSD was recognised as a separate psychiatric entity.  Before this time treatment focussed on other psychiatric disorders particularly anxiety and depression and personality disorder, which can accompany PTSD.  The recognition of the diagnosis provided the basis for identifying a disorder caused by man-made and natural traumas.  The meaning of the disorder was further clarified in the DSM-III-R (American Psychiatric Association, 1987) with the inclusion of re-experiencing, avoidance and hyperarousal as core symptoms.  DSM-IV (American Psychiatric Association, 1994) provided still more specific criteria for the diagnosis of PTSD, distinguishing between man made and natural traumas and adding further symptoms of being clinically and significantly distressed or impaired in social, occupational or other main areas of functioning.  That is, the essential features of PTSD form three groups of symptoms (intrusive, avoidance and physiological) that may follow extreme or catastrophically stressful life events such as those that may be experienced in combat.  Intrusive symptoms are ways in which adverse events are re-experienced (e.g. flashbacks and nightmares), avoidance symptoms are ways in which reminders of the events are avoided and include a ‘numbing of general responsiveness’ and physiological symptoms centre on increased arousal and include sleep disturbances, irritability and ‘physiologic reactivity’ as reminders of the events.


The symptoms of PTSD are numerous but rarely are they talked about in layperson’s speak.  Health professionals may fail to adequately explain what is happening to the veteran in ordinary language.  To clarify the symptoms of PTSD I have purposely listed many of them and have also provided a corresponding effect or impact (highlighted in bold type) as it relates to the veterans’ everyday life circumstances.  The symptoms on the left are directly from Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition (DSM IV) and those on the right represent the everyday occurrences for the veteran.  They are outlined in the comparison table.

PTSD Symptoms

Everyday Effect for the Veteran

Recurring   memories of the traumatic event which you can’t seem to get out of your mind INTRUSIVE THOUGHTS
Recurring   dreams of the trauma BAD DREAMS, NIGHTMARES
Feeling   that the traumatic event was happening again (hallucinations, flashbacks) RELIVING THE TRAUMA
Things   or events act as triggers which remind you or resemble your traumatic event FLASHBACKS
These   triggers or reminders make you feel nervous tense, generate panic attacks PANIC ATTACKS
Purposely   avoiding thoughts, feelings or conversations about trauma WITHDRAWN
Deliberately   avoiding activities, places and situations about the trauma PHOBIAS
When   trying to recall the traumatic event you are unable to recall or remember   certain things or important aspects that had happened MEMORY LOSS
Losing   interest in people, things and activities (family, friends and hobbies) which   were important to you prior to the traumatic event LACK OF MOTIVATION
Feeling   more emotionally estranged, separated or feeling cut off from others ALIENATION
Feeling   a markedly reduced ability to feel emotions, especially those associated with   intimacy, tenderness and sexuality LACKING EMOTIONS
Difficulty   falling or staying asleep POOR SLEEP
Experiencing   irritability or outbursts of anger RAGE
Difficulty   concentrating on tasks or completing tasks POOR CONCENTRATION
Feeling   overtly alert or watchful when you don’t need to be EVER WATCHFUL
Having   strong startle reactions EDGY
Worrying   about coping with everyday situations LACK OF CONFIDENCE
Difficulty   keeping a regular job WORK DIFFICULTIES
Table showing PTSD symptoms and everyday effects

Gary Martin, in his words, recounts the everyday problems confronting the veteran as they relate to his own experiences.  I have added to areas that needed further clarification and many of the symptoms overlap.


The daytime thoughts of the veteran are often disrupted by memories of events, places and people associated with his combat experiences.  These intrusions are often replays of a problematical situation wherein the vet, in recalling the event, attempts to search for an alternative solution or outcome to what actually happened at the time.  These are usually unpleasant thoughts but the vet finds himself unable to put them to rest.  Many such thoughts are triggered by common everyday experiences.  The classic instance of the ‘thump, thump, thump’ of an Iroquois Rescue Helicopter passing overhead and sending shivers down the spine is one.  The smell of urine is another (corpses have no muscle control at the time of death and the bladder is emptied), the sight of Vietnamese or other Asians, the smell of diesel fuel (used in the urinal in Nui Dat), any loud discharge, etc.

Intrusive thoughts or ‘flashbacks’ seem to be the most prominent of the long-term symptoms of PTSD and are best illustrated by the journalist Frank Palmos in his book Ridding the Devils.  As the sole survivor of a group of five newsmen killed by the Viet Cong during the ‘Tet’ offensive of 1968, he writes:

“I always wondered who killed them.  Not a passing thought or even a recurring theme.  One that wandered in through a side door of my mind, prompted by a newspaper reference to Vietnam or journalists being shot or beaten in South America or anywhere.  A thought that would flit out in the glare of harsh daylight, or from traffic noise.”

Palmos actually returned to Vietnam and after a long and difficult search found the leader of the group who had killed his companions.


Reliving the trauma is often replayed in the bedroom.  Waking out of a nightmare or in a cold sweat trying desperately to think what you were thinking about, being scared to go to sleep or staying up as late as possible so you are so tired that you will

drop off quickly are all events that are unexplainable or unanswerable.  The veterans know too well that their pasts and their consciences return during the night.  The worst part is not being able to remember the experience so that you can rationalise it and perhaps come to terms with it.  In the past, the only means of preparing for the hours of darkness was by self-medication.  Self medicating on alcohol or non-prescriptive drugs is often the only way veterans can get a good nights sleep.  Veterans don’t realise that this process has been going on for years even to the extent that alcohol has become a major part of their life.

To sleep deeply is hard because you have been taught to sleep lightly or to function effectively with minimal sleep.  Gun pit duty, night ambushes and constant in-country patrolling all take their toll.  A soldier is on duty for 24 hours a day and governed by military law with severe punishments for falling asleep whilst on duty, but most of all is the pressure of not falling asleep while on duty and letting your comrades in arms down … their lives are in your hands.

That PTSD persists in all conflicts is demonstrated by those captured during the Gulf War.  Flight-Lieutenant John Nichol, one of the first to suffer imprisonment, describes upon returning home that while driving on the A1 to meet a friend in London he suddenly found himself back in Baghdad.

“I realised that these flashbacks had been happening for some time: I had regularly been living the fear without really acknowledging it.  I found it very difficult to reconcile the fact that I was back in civilisation, leading a normal life”.

He was a prisoner for seven weeks.


Memory loss and poor concentration can be major problems for the veterans.  They create problems in the workplace, erode confidence and attack self-esteem.  Forgetting and not being able to stay on task, requires the veteran to overcompensate for the condition, worsening their stress levels.  Going down to the backyard shed and forgetting what you went for, having to keep a diary, needing to write down everything but worst of all, having your partner reminding you when to take medication or to keep that important doctor’s appointment which you tend to forget.  Strange how the veteran can forget important dates and events but never forget their service number.


This is linked with depression and pessimism.  Many veterans upon their return from Vietnam went back to their prior professions.  Many never sought promotion or wanted extra responsibility, as they were content to remain where they were.  Most chose vocations where they could work in isolation such as driving trucks, in storerooms or the building industry.  Others sought employment in industries, which held a high degree of structure.  The prison, police, and fire services are classic examples of where many veterans worked because of the structure, black and white rules, a fair degree of control over others, the necessity to wear a uniform, be regimented and to work in a rigid environment.  Others went back to their employment and couldn’t stick it out because of rage, couldn’t tolerate fools or found that the ‘high of combat’ could never again be found in a normal job.  The other extreme is when they become workaholics, often successful in their particular fields until the ‘wheels fall off’.

Similarly, many ‘regulars’ who returned home to continue their careers in the army became disillusioned.  They became disappointed with the boredom of a scaled down army; its cutbacks, the restrictions on field exercises and a feeling that an army was now not needed, resulting in the loss of many experienced soldiers to civilian life.


For the veteran rage is as frightening to him as it is to others around him.  For no apparent reason he will strike out at anyone near.  Often, this includes his wife and children.  Some have been able to control their violent behaviour and direct it towards inanimate objects such as punching their fists through walls.  Others, due to their military training, may go into their basic reaction of anger based on fear.  Often the veteran, feeling rage emerging, will leave the scene before somebody or something gets hurt.  He may then wander or drive about aimlessly.  When driving the rage is reflected in the way he may abuse other road users, deservedly or not.

There are many reasons for rage.  Military training equated rage with warrior behaviour in combat.  This often left the combatant with wild, violent impulses with no one to direct them against, especially when unable to see or find the enemy who laid a booby-trap or set an ambush, leaving an unfulfilled desire to strike back at something.  On return from Vietnam, the rage that had been tapped in combat was displaced against those in authority and those who failed to support him either in Vietnam or when he returned.  Coupled with the rage, the veteran feels a general mistrust of the “system”.  Many vets have a long history of changing jobs.  Often, the veteran claims boredom or having to perform tasks he considers beneath him but in reality it is due to a combination of: confrontation with bosses; being forced to suffer “fools” as co-workers; and feelings of exploitation which inevitably lead him to resigning or being fired.  Knowing what causes the rage syndrome will help the veteran to control it.


For many veterans, sitting with their backs to the door, sleeping close to the window, sleeping lightly, driving in the country and unconsciously looking for ambush sites or possible machine gun hides are aspects of the veteran’s initial service training and their never ending need for a sense of security.

Hearing a car backfire or a loud noise made by a cup falling off the table may place the veteran in panic mode.  During recruit training he was taught the basics of survival … when you hear a noise or are fired upon you go to ground to survive.

RUN (when fired on you run to another firing position)
DOWN (you go to ground to reduce your body target area)
CRAWL (upon hitting the ground you crawl from the position where you were first targeted by the enemy)
OBSERVE (look for the enemy)
AIM (sight your weapon)
FIRE (return fire).

All movements are instinctive and ingrained into you to help you survive.  Often in Vietnam a soldier would go through the process without having the opportunity of seeing the enemy.

Patrols and ambushing drills were always stressful.  Ever vigilant, your eyes scanned the neighbouring treeline, hoping the ground would not explode beneath you, taking a body part or hitting your mate either up front or behind you.  Upon the digger’s return to Australia he did not have to worry about being shot at, ambushed, stepping on a mine, releasing a booby trap or having to fire at civilians, but the habit of remaining highly alert remained.


The spouses of many vets complain that the men are cold and uncaring.  The vet, himself, will recall an incident when he felt little or no emotion on the death of a comrade in battle or having returned to civilian life, felt nothing on the death of a friend or relative.  He would rather deal with tragedy in his own way.  Similarly, he cannot express the joys of life and will often describe himself as being emotionally dead.

This emotional ‘deadness’ evolved from the start of the veteran’s training where his future enemy was labelled ‘slope’, ‘slopehead’ or ‘nog’ so that when he arrived in the battle zone it became much easier to kill a ‘nog’ than another human being.  The dehumanising effect became general where the vet called himself a ‘grunt’.  Dead and wounded comrades became ‘KIA’s’ and ‘WIA’s’.  The enemy became ‘VC’, ‘little people’ or ‘charlies’.  These pseudonyms were used to take the edge off the reality of the battlefield and help blunt the horrors of war.  This psychic numbing becomes a defence-mechanism and an aid to survival for the veteran meeting with like traumas in civilian life.  If the senses are ‘dead’ to the worst horror then it becomes easy to stifle all emotions, including love and sympathy.  The veteran then goes through life with an impaired capacity for love and care for others.  He has no feeling of direction or purpose in life.  He is not sure why he even exists.  The feeling of ‘why we exist’ or ‘even why bother to’ is often pondered upon.  Fortunately, for many veterans the reinforcement of loved ones (wife and children especially), veterans and counsellors, tend to reduce this thinking to a large degree.

It has often been said to me by veterans that since returning from Vietnam they have never achieved the same sense of intimacy or closeness with their partner as they did when they shared a shell scrape with their mate.  This intimacy stemmed from the knowledge that both your lives depended upon each other and often lives were lost.  This level of responsibility and purpose is rarely achieved in any other type of relationship.  Another reason for this numbness is because once you experience the hurt of losing a comrade, you may never want to get close to his replacement to avoid being hurt again.

You are taught not to feel emotions, to rationalise the loss of a comrade or even to grieve.  A comrade is killed, you didn’t have time to grieve you still had to do your duty.  In comes the CASEVAC and your last memory of him is being zipped up in a body bag, you didn’t have time to grieve.  Vietnam was unique because it was a fast-mechanised war.


It is hard to break ingrained habits especially habits that were essential for survival.  It is no wonder that many veterans have trouble getting to and staying asleep.  They get up at odd hours, watch the TV, listen to the radio or have a cup of coffee and a cigarette and then try again to get some sleep.  Others get up at first light; a ritual common in the army as this is when the enemy generally attacks.  All soldiers were required to do their turn on the ‘gun’ or to keep watch; 2 hours on and 2 hours off.  To alleviate sleep problems many resort to self-medication, whereby they drink, on a regular basis, copious quantities of alcohol prior to going to sleep.

Albert French in his book Patches of Fire sums up the concept of sleep while on tour.  “Sleep was only rest, not peace and not enough rest to slow things down, take a look back, to feel who you were, or sometimes just feel”.  When on duty, patrol or laying an ambush, if you could sleep, you didn’t dream, you didn’t close your mind to the night, you slept lightly.  You slept in your gear, always in boots and with your weapon in close proximity.  You slept on the hard ground because you threw away your inflatable mattress sections in case they squeaked in the night when you moved around thus giving away your position.  Often your silk or ‘hoochie’ were the only providers of warmth and protection against the elements.  Twelve months of constant poor sleep prepares the veteran for sleep problems in their later life.

Veterans suffering PTSD find the hours before sleep uncomfortable.  Many will stay awake as long as possible.  They will often take alcohol to help dull any thoughts that may enter during this time period.  It is, of course, linked to the “Stand-to” drill they performed as a daily ritual to safeguard the group during the hours of darkness.  Very often they will watch TV into the small hours of the morning.  Finally, with sleep, comes the nightmares of being shot at or being pursued and left with an empty weapon.  It is not unusual for the veteran to experience, night after night, a replay of the death of a particular close friend or of deaths he caused as a combatant.  Dreams of common events in Vietnam often occur and are sometimes mixed with complete fantasies, thrown up by the mind much as a comical cartoon film is shown to refresh the mind after a film of violence is exhibited.  Some veterans will forget the dream but wake at an early hour with a feeling of dread and very tired.  Again this plays out the morning “Stand-to” routine.


‘A soldier never cries’, or does he? If one of your group or a good mate was stitched by a burst from an AK, dismembered by a mine blast or ripped apart by shrapnel you did not have much time to grieve over him.  A ‘chopper’ appeared, he went into a plastic bag and was whisked away to Long Binh.  Certainly, a unit memorial service would be held before the end of a tour, but the feeling of numbness or emotional emptiness never did go away.  You could not tell your wife of your feelings for a mate; the taxpayer who sent you over there did not care.  Now, it was time to cry – for your mate, certainly – but also for yourself, because of the sheer helplessness of your condition.  Depression had set-in and many veterans then turned to alcohol to lift them out of this externally induced self pity, only to find themselves caught in a cycle of ‘highs’ and ‘lows’, the worst feature of substance abuse.  Often, this depression led to feelings of guilt.


The most illogical, yet frequent symptom of PTSD is that of feeling guilty because you survived while others did not.  Gary recounted a visit with his son to the cemetery in Terendak Garrison cantonment, in Malacca, Malaysia.  While searching for the grave of Maj. Peter Badcoe VC, he looked down to see that he was standing on the grave of one of his closest mates from the Malayan Emergency days.  He had been killed in Vietnam.  When his son asked him why he was suddenly upset, he could not explain why he felt the way he did.  He had suffered a brief but overwhelming sense of guilt that he had survived the war but his mate had not.  Those veterans not accepting the feeling of guilt as logical often find themselves looking for situations that will physically harm them.  Picking fights against younger, tougher men; joining volunteer organisations which, of their very nature, exposes their members to danger; compulsive donating of blood (giving their life-fluid so that others may live) and some even punishing themselves by self-mutilation are ways to relieve the guilt.


Fear of being   enclosed; pulling over to the roadside to let that driver who is too close pass   you; sitting with your back to the wall; backing away from a crowded lift;   pushing your wife and children away if they cling to you; concern when caught in   the open, away from ‘cover’ and so-on; are all symptoms felt by veterans.

Gary’s anxiety   attack, often shared by other veterans, was brought about during visits to the   supermarket.  When he was in that checkout race he started to ‘freak out’.  He   even went to the extent of studying the marketing theories behind supermarket   queuing and the statistic that tells us the shopper should spend no longer than   3.7 minutes in the race before checking purchases.  Try as he might he could not   prevent a reaction after 5 minutes, his anxiety making him look a fool and   causing his wife extreme embarrassment.

An   understandable but dangerous symptom is to maintain an “awareness” of military   skills by joining survival groups and the like.  This is the syndrome which   causes many veterans to keep a gun beside his bed at night, “just in case”.  The   fact that commonsense should tell him that the chances of an early morning   Sapper attack in beautiful downtown Dubbo is fairly remote, is not a valid   reason to quit the practice, as far as he is concerned.  He will find some other   reason.

Another   everyday situation that can create anxiety is the telephone.  Many veterans have   difficulty answering the phone and they let it ring until it stops, or wait   until someone else answers it.  This practise generally frustrates other family   members.  If the veteran resides alone they tend to psyche themselves up to   believe that the person on the other end of the phone is someone important to   them.  Often they just let it ring out or take the phone off the hook.


Isolation may   be either physical, psychological or both.  Many veterans experience panic   attacks in shopping centres, they feel hemmed in, can’t handle the crowds or   others being too close to them.  They can’t handle traffic congestion and the   weekly shopping becomes a major chore.  Some have found to avoid such situations   they are better off living away from the hustle and bustle of town and city   living.  They only trust a selected few with whom they have built up rapport   over the years and who understand and respect the veterans’ idiosyncrasies.    They elect to live in isolation feeling secure on their own piece of land often   in geographically isolated regions.

Even worse is   the self-imposed isolation veterans bring upon themselves because they question   their self-worth.  Lacking confidence, frightened of failure, not wanting   responsibility are all ways of avoiding situations which may force them in to   some form of decision making process.  During their operational service many had   to make life or death decisions, held the power over life and death and did   things of their own accord which they would come to regret in later years.  To   the young soldier he was only doing his job.  The stresses of small everyday   situations become insurmountable for many veterans, which leads to frustration   and rage.  It’s best to avoid many of these types of situations in order to just   cope.  This leads to frustration on the part of the veteran, the employer, the   wife and the children whom, not understanding the reasons for such behaviour,   dismiss such actions as a lack of motivation or just plain laziness.

Some veterans   today feel they are young men in old bodies.  Their military training is ever   present, their ability to apply the principles of basic military skills or   tactics is still evident in their thoughts but many become frustrated because   they fail to realise that they have aged.  They feel the best way to avoid the   past is not to talk about it and this in itself contributes further to their   psychological isolation.  Often, veterans have cynical views about their   government, family and friends and these stem from their views of how they had   been treated in the past.


The Services   use a unique method of training their personnel, especially the army.  It is a   very rigid and structured form of education.  No other form of education has   such a powerful influence on the soldier’s life.  Why is it that you have   difficulty remembering your wife or children’s birth dates but you can always   remember your Service Number? Why is it that many Vietnam veterans are   competitive, generally have rigid family values, have difficulty maintaining   relationships, cannot achieve intimacy, lack motivation, hate being in crowded   locations and are social phobics? Setting aside the condition of PTSD I believe   that a precursor to the condition is the nature of the training all service   personnel go through.  It is suggested that many veterans are concrete thinkers,   due to their military training.  They think in black and white, there are no   shades of grey, they are orderly and regimented in all aspects of their lives,   function well in a structured environment and don’t tolerate fools easily.

One has to   appreciate that the Army has one of the best education systems in the world.  No   other organisation can take recruits from outback Australia, the Steppes of   Russia or the hillbillies of the Appalachian Mountains in the US and teach them   to kill efficiently.  Even in today’s society we still can’t teach all young   children to read and write, but we can teach people to kill.  For soldiers, the   education process has to be powerful as society is preparing their soldiers for   the worst.  By looking at the military system of training it is easy to see how   soldiers are programmed.  The whole military culture is a programmed entity.

This section   looks at the various ways the military experience impacts on the soldiers’   lives.  It is often argued that many veterans have never been de-programmed   since their return from Vietnam.  Most people who experience a trauma these days   are very likely to receive some form of professional debrief, which is a form of   release.  Unfortunately, many veterans have never had the opportunity to   experience this process as they do not feel they have a problem and therefore don’t feel they need professional help.


The following views should be appreciated by the recruits who went through the military system during the Vietnam period.  Gary held strong views on how the army trained and developed soldiers for war.  Much of what is stated are Gary’s views and I have added information where appropriate.

Basic training is what the name implies “…going back to basics, starting again, a reprogramming of the individual … brainwashing”.  From the day you arrive on the recruit course you are not treated as an individual, you are treated as part of a team.  The system uses peer pressure to get rid of non-conforming individuals.  It discourages individual thought and initiative, it rewards conformity and compliance.   The military doesn’t want individuals, no shades of grey or independent thought “…  such people would question orders and the structure of the system”.

A serial number replaces your name (loss of individuality and depersonalisation) and every correspondence or form of oral communication is answered by a number.  You can’t talk unless spoken to and even then there is a specific way for addressing an NCO (God).  For the duration of your basic training you spend hours ‘square bashing’ and there is a purpose for this ‘instinctive obedience’.  If you look in the Drill Manual you will find that the aim of ‘close order drill’ is to instil into the individual instinctive obedience.  From the day you start marching you march in sections, troops or groups, again, you lose your individualism, you become a part of a team.

Lessons are 40 minute periods with a 10 minute ‘smoko’ break, (the ‘smoko’ break being a precursor for future substance abuse habits).  The instructor’s lesson follows a standard format and always begins with: “In this lesson you will be taught… The reason you are being taught this … and, “at the end of this lesson you will be able to … “etc.  The conclusion of the lesson has a summary and students are asked questions just to check they are paying attention.  Prior to moving on to the next phase of instruction, the instructor ensures that the fundamentals are understood, if not you go through it again.  Tests and more tests track the recruit through his ordeal.  This style of instruction creates concrete thinkers, black or white but no shades of grey.  Grey relates to emotions and the army doesn’t want emotional soldiers.  All forms of instruction and training have heavy undertones of patriotism, glory and honour.  Leave is not a right, it is earned.  The slightest deviation from the rules or any hint of insubordination leads to extra duties or disciplinary action even to the extent of a stint at the Holsworthy Correctional Centre or a dishonourable discharge.  The concept of a mutiny in the military is a gathering of 3 or more disgruntled diggers critiquing the system.

The army uses a system whereby every unit is co-dependent upon the other, every individual, every small unit ranging to larger formations is co-dependent.  You are taught that one weak link will cause the machine to malfunction.  Excluding support weapon formations there are three Sections to a Platoon, three Platoons to a Company, six Companies to a Battalion (four being combat infantry), three Battalions to a Brigade, three Brigades to a Division, three Divisions to a Corp, three Corps to an Army, etc.

Everything in the military is by numbers and mainly in threes.  The structure of units and even drill movements or weapon training are by numbers.  Rifle drill, marching, lifting loads all relate to numbers…. “One, two, three, one, two, three, hup”. There is constant pressure and tests to weed out the weak, the non-conformists and troublemakers who are dealt with swiftly.  Tact in the instructors is often lacking and too often to get the recruit to conform they use sarcasm or other dehumanising behaviours or comments.  Twenty push-ups or a quick sprint are just a few of the milder tools for conformity.

The gospel according to the Services ‘Never question an order until after you carry it out’ ensures that personnel don’t think and their actions are instinctive.  Be it a digger on an M60, a gunner on a 5 inch naval gun, or a pilot in a Canberra bomber, they fire or drop their load when ordered to, they don’t think, its instinctive due the nature of their training.  It’s ingrained into the individual to obey the order and never to question a superior.  A recent example of how instinctive training overrides fear and panic is the recent Blackhawk disaster.  The Board of inquiry found that even when the choppers were going down the crew and soldiers went into training mode even though the worst was anticipated.  Personnel who were injured, instinctively returned to the downed helicopters to rescue their comrades at the risk of their own personal safety.

The military system is very kind to its members, they think of everything.  In riot control a squad or section may be ordered to fire on a crowd of dissenters.  This was especially true with the British in the Malayan Emergency.  An officer would identify the ringleader and indicate the person to his squad.  All squad members would be issued with one round, one of which would be a blank.  After the squad fired and killed the ringleader, the Sgt would collect the cartridges.  Everyone in the squad would feel that they had the blank and weren’t responsible for the death of the ringleader.  Some psychological consolation.  It is the same for firing squads, we can be ordered to shoot our comrades in arms instinctively, but were never allowed to question the reason.  We thought it seemed right at the time or it had to be right because a superior said so.  This was also the case in Vietnam, bombing villages killing civilians, ours was never to question but to carry out orders.

The classic example of this was Lt. William L. (Rusty) Calley Jnr who was held responsible for the My Lai massacre (approximately 500 women, children and old men were murdered by a Company of American Infantrymen).  My Lai is the classic example when soldiers lose their discipline and how cruel men can be when they cross the boundary of sanity.  It’s understandable, but not an excuse to throw away the rules of war and commit murder en masse.  In the 7 weeks prior to the massacre, Charlie Company had no direct contact with the VC though 4 of the Company were killed and 34 wounded.  The inability to confront the elusive enemy generated pent-up anger and frustration, which was violently directed at innocent villagers.  Calley, in the closing words of his book sums up “The horrors of war came together at My Lai on March 16, 1968. And maybe someday the GIs who went there will say, Now the world knows what war is. And now the world really hates it. And now there is No More War”.

If you have ever read the book it is not surprising that there are not many survivors of Charlie Company that committed the atrocity.  Many have taken their own lives… I suppose the ghosts of the past do return.  Calley received a life conviction for 22 counts of murder but a successful appeal ensured he never served a day in prison.  The matter was quietly pushed off the front pages of the newspapers and the American public continued to believe that a nation as great as theirs was still above atrocities and the dark side of war.

Gary felt that the Services didn’t want thinkers or people to question orders, otherwise their emotions and conscience come into play.  The classic example is never question a superior and this concept is also instilled into the individual.  The lines of communication between diggers, NCOs and officers are rigid and the correct procedures must always be adhered to.  The officer class is alive and well today as it was in feudal times.  Class structure perpetuated the need for order and discipline, which in turn reinforced the system.

Physical fitness is the main method of dehumanising the individual though the army argues that soldiers need to be fit for combat.  What Physical Training (PT) is really about is pushing you to your limits both physically and psychologically.  If you break or can’t make it you let your Section down.  Weakness is spurned, the winners reap the accolades and baubles.  Inter-team and section competition generates a feeling of belonging, comradeship and your section or platoon is your family and you don’t want to let your family down.  The system trains you to win, armies don’t want losers.


Looking for   possible causes that may be attributable to many veteran’s inability to express   emotions may also be found in the manner the army trains its soldiers.  This   again relates to the PTSD symptom of numbing and avoidance.  When it comes to   the preparation for the killing of another human being, denial and   desensitisation are the main methods used by the military.  Though the Army may   not realise it, they have used the eminent Russian Psychologist Pavlov’s concept   of classical conditioning.  He won the Nobel Prize for his work in 1904 teaching   a dog to salivate by ringing a bell.  With time the dog learned to associate the   sound of the bell with eating even though no food was made available.  That is,   the conditioned stimulus was the bell, the conditioned response was the   salivation and the reward was food.  Similarly, Skinner in the mid nineteen   hundreds further refined the process using laboratory rats and called it   “behavioural engineering”.  The same principles that applied to Pavlov’s dog and   Skinner’s rats form the basis of military training that fosters reflexive   reactions without thought.

Teaching a   soldier to shoot utilises all the concepts of operant conditioning and behaviour   modification.  That is, the conditioned stimulus was the target popping up, the   conditioned response was accurately engaging the target and the reward for   accurate shooting would be qualifying on the range for that shoot.  Realistic   training and instant feedback ensure success.  Pre-Vietnam War days saw soldiers   developing their shooting skills by aiming at bulls-eye style targets.  These targets were replaced with human shaped targets to make the training more realistic.  Immediately after each shoot the targets are marked so that the   firer has instant feedback on his firing prowess.  Today’s training uses   electronic visual aids to supply the immediate feedback.  On ranges, targets pop   up instantly, unexpectedly and if you score a hit they fall replicating a real   life situation.  Every aspect of training is rehearsed, visualised and conditioned in order to develop a reflexive quick shoot style.  Due to the nature of the repetitive training the soldier is conditioned to engage and fire   reflexively at the target.  This assists the denial stage, whereby the soldier   doesn’t think that he is shooting another person, merely a target.


The pressure   to conform and perform is immense and for those who do there is always the   reward of a badge, medal and promotion.  If you fail you are ostracised.  Your   uniform is immaculate, impeccably creased and starched, you spend hours spit   polishing your boots, all brass items are shined until they are worn thin, and   then at the completion of your recruit training the big parade.  The Rising Sun   hat badge and a Corps posting, then Corps training and another hat badge (if   infantry it is usually the crossed rifles), and then another posting, the   Regiment and the ‘skippy badge’.  Then as a private the reward of promotion now   becomes the carrot to progress through the system.  The PR 19 and PR 66s’   (reporting on subordinates by superiors) are used to ensure conformity to the   system.  Elitism and patriotism are generated via this process and a good   soldier never questions but obeys.  Too much faith is placed in the wisdom of   the more senior ranks and history has shown that they also are not infallible.    The ‘God syndrome’ forms a part of the soldier’s psyche … no other occupation   bestows on its employee the capacity to decide life over death … a huge   responsibility.  In war the soldier is trained and sanctioned to kill by an act   of parliament.  The reality is soldiers are programmed to kill, they are at the   peak of their physical condition and hyperalert.  When it’s all over they are   told to go home and lead a normal life.  Immediately after the Vietnam   experience there were no debriefs, no de-brainwashing and often, no thank you   from a grateful nation.  It has only been in the past 20 years that governments   worldwide have recognised the need to make available professional assistance to   military personnel who have been psychologically scarred by war-caused trauma.

Reiterating   Gary’s thoughts, he believed that the nature of military training was designed   to stress the warrior class, training to kill in earnest and the need to   demonstrate warrior behaviour.  Bayonet practice is a classic example of this   behaviour.  Recruits are lined up, shirts off, SLR with bayonet at the ready,   then they run to the dangling sandbag screaming their lungs out.  Often they are   abused by the instructor because they were not aggressive or violent enough.    Rage and anger are encouraged and accepted in the services.  You never give up,   you never compromise and you must win.

Similarly,   Gary felt that drinking, smoking and sport formed the backbone of a soldier’s   social life.  The wet canteens and the mess life encouraged the soldier to   drink.  In many Battalions it was part of your duty to attend the mess when you   knocked off from duty.  On active service the American ‘rat packs’ were the go.    Mini packs of Kool or Camel cigarettes ensured your supply.  These were the   digger’s opiate to relieve the stress and tension of active service.  Growing up   too quickly and using alcohol and cigarettes to cope with army life encouraged   habits which are difficult to break in later years.


      Soldiers of the 1st Battalion,   The Royal Australian Regiment on patrol through a paddy field in South Vietnam after deployment by Iroquois helicopter.

Image L61489  from National Archives of Australia Series A1200 Recorded by Australian News and Information Bureau.


From 1962   through to 1972, 46,582 Australian personnel served in Vietnam which included 17,424 national servicemen.  Of these, 496 were killed and 2398 were wounded.    The average age of an Australian soldier in Vietnam was 20 years.  For the   Americans, though they had a significant number of military advisers in Vietnam   prior to 1961, statistics indicate that from August 1964 to May 1975 a total of   2.6 million troops served in Vietnam.  Of these 56,244 were killed and 330,000   were wounded.  The average age of an American soldier in Vietnam was 19 years.    The figures cited above are from James Harper’s book ‘War without End‘   and provide a realistic view of the figures involved.   However, with the   publication of new books and articles the figures keep changing.

The Vietnam   War was unique.  It was a war of technology.  Warfare has certainly changed in   the past 100 years.  In the late 1800s it was the Enfield rifle against spears,   World War I saw the advent of the Vickers machine gun and the tank, World War II   saw the B29 and the concept of strategic bombing, while Korea heralded the jet   fighter (Sabre and Canberra bomber).  The Vietnam War’s claim to fame was the   ‘chopper’, the B52 and firepower.  It was psychologically reassuring for the   digger to know if you were hit you could be on a ‘dustoff’ and back at the RAP   within the hour or if caught in an ambush your FO could bring down a barrage of   105 mms.

How often have   you heard someone say “my father served during World War II and he didn’t get   PTSD?” World War II and Vietnam were totally different conflicts.  Australian   soldiers fought in North Africa to help the mother country, a legacy of our   colonial days and they fought the Japanese on the Kokoda Trail in order to   prevent an invasion of their homeland.   In Vietnam, many did not know why they   were there.  The Regulars (career soldiers) saw the impact of Bob Menzies’   policy advocating the ‘domino theory’ in Korea and Malaya and believed in   earnest that Australia would be next.  Many conscripts were too young to grasp   the concept of the ‘yellow peril’ and more often than not did not initially have   a clue where Vietnam was.  For many, service in Vietnam was an adventure and for   the majority of conscripts it was an opportunity to travel.

National   Service increased the size of the Australian permanent army in 1966 from 24,583   to 32, 702 and by 1971 the permanent army of 28,107 was increased by conscripts   to 43,789 (an increase of 35.8%).  The ‘nasho’ spent 10 weeks of intensive   training on fieldcraft, drill and army procedure at either Singleton, Kapooka or   Puckapunyal.  On graduation they were assigned to a corps for another 2 – 3   months training before being posted to an operational unit.  Nashos’ being sent   to Vietnam were required to complete a course at the Jungle Training Centre at   Canungra.  Nashos who were selected for Officer Training School during their   basic training were sent to Scheyville.  Army policy with regard to conscripts   in Vietnam was such that they constituted less than half of each unit and served   only one 12-month period on a tour of duty.  Contrary to the anti-conscription   and anti-war effort national service did not end until December 1972 when the   Labor Government came to power.

In general   terms, WW II saw soldiers of both sides in uniform, boundaries were clearly   drawn, there were rules and codes of conduct for both soldiers and civilians.    The enemy were clearly distinguishable and there were clear procedures to follow   if you were either captured or wounded.  Vietnam was different, it was a   guerrilla war.  For the young serviceman their tour was a combination of intense   stress, fear and endless boredom, though they did establish a reputation as   being formidable opponents and skilful allies.  Trinh Duc (a village chief)   described the military skills of the Australians:

Worse   than the Americans were the Australians.  The Americans’ style was to hit us,   then call for planes and artillery.  Our response was to break contact and   disappear if we could, but if we couldn’t we’d move up right next to them so the   planes couldn’t get at us. T he Australians were more patient than the   Americans, better guerrilla fighters, better at ambushes. T hey liked to stay   with us instead of calling in the planes.  We were more afraid of their   style.

Similarly, G. Stone in his book War Without Honour (1966) provides an excellent insight   into the digger’s training, skill and stealth.

The   Australian Battalion has been described by war correspondents as the safest   combat force in Vietnam … it is widely felt the Australians have shown   themselves able to give chase to the guerrillas without exposing themselves to   the lethal ambushes that have claimed so many American dead.  The Australians,   often covering the same ground and running into similar enemy emplacements are   different; and there are important reasons for this.  Australian patrols shun   jungle tracks and clearings.  They choose, instead, to ‘scrub bash’, picking   their way carefully and quietly through the bamboo thickets and tangled foliage   to take maximum advantage of cover.  It is a tiring, frustrating experience to   trek through the jungle with Australians.  Patrols have taken as much as nine   hours to sweep a mile of terrain.  They move forward a few steps at a time,   stop, listen, then proceed again.

However, like   in all wars there were some bad decisions made at a higher formation level which   caused the deaths of many Australian soldiers.  In his biography, Soldier in   a Storm General Alan Stretton admits that the tactical error of laying   23,000 mines in a minefield from Dat Do to the South China Sea without making   appropriate arrangements for its security was a blunder.  He states:

It was   naive to the extreme to think that such a minefield could be protected by   regional South Vietnamese forces and that they would be capable of stopping the   Viet Cong from lifting the mines and using them as a source of supply in their   own operations against the Australians.  Some 8,000 were lifted from the field   by the Viet Cong and caused death and injury to hundreds of young Australians.

Neil Davis   shares his view on the nature of the war in T. Bowden’s book One Crowded   Hour (1998):

As an   Australian, I was very proud of the Australian troops.  They were professional,   very well trained and they fought the people they were sent to fight – the Viet   Cong.  They tried not to involve civilians and generally there were few civilian   casualties inflicted by the Australians I believe that fifty per cent of   Australian casualties were caused by land mines and booby traps.  When the   Communists found the Australians weren’t using the tracks but fanning out   through the jungle, it was turned against them.  The VC would discover and   sometimes reposition Australian mines that had been left in ambush positions,   which were then triggered by the Australians themselves.  Meanwhile the VC were   using the jungle trails like highways, because they knew the tracks were   free.

Working with   veterans on a professional basis it became quite clear that there were three   phases of approximately 4 months each which veterans went through during their   one-year tour.  Phase I being ‘invincibility’, phase II being the ‘reckless’   stage and phase III the ‘survival’ stage.  The first phase centred on being   invincible, they were part of a proud army with a history of tradition and   victories.  This was reinforced all through basic training, during their Corps   training and especially at Canungra.  The intensity of training prepared them   both physically and psychologically for their tour.  It was drilled into them,   they were the best, they had the best training, weapons and equipment but more   importantly they were to carry on the Anzac tradition.  On their arrival in   Vietnam they felt they were invincible until they found out the enemy were just   as good, if not better.  Their invincibility was soon tested and eroded as their   colleagues lost their lives, were killed and maimed by accidents and friendly   fire.  Worst of all was seeing their mates maimed by mines and primitive booby   traps.  The frustration and the boredom of search and destroy missions, the   repetitive ambush drills, all providing limited results.  The enemy were   becoming inaccessible, too clever, would not stick around to fight and   generally, fought on ground of their own choosing.  Often after combat the only   trace of the enemy would be a blood trail.

The second   phase could be regarded as the reckless phase, everyone had settled in and   buddied up, the initial novelty, wariness and newness had gone, soldiers   realised that they could get killed or maimed and that this conflict was for   real.  Their compassion had waned and a ‘them or us’ mentality prevailed.  They   had been well and truly blooded by this stage and had become numb and   indifferent to many of the things they saw.  To survive, you shot first and   asked questions later, you became wary of all Vietnamese, you showed little   feeling toward the enemy.  Patrolling was constant with little rest.  Tour days   became just time, days of the week lost their names and meaning as did weekends   and days of rest.  Tour days simply became a number between 1 and 365.  It was   during this phase that abnormal behaviour occurred on the part of the majority   of soldiers.  You rarely questioned what your mates did and like all soldiers   acclimatising to constant death and uncivilised behaviour you developed a black   sense of humour with regard to life and death.  During this phase you became   careless and frustrated and did things that would stay with you the rest of your   life.  At the time it seemed the right thing to do.  Paul Fussell was a   20-year-old Lt. in the American army in France during World War II.  He was   severely wounded and returned home to write his highly acclaimed book Wartime.  In his book he reminds us that soldiers were once young,   athletic, credulous and innocent of their own mortality.  They had not as yet   developed their character.

Phase 3 was   the survival stage.  By now you had either experienced, witnessed or heard about   a mate being killed or maimed.  If not a close mate, at least someone in the   next Platoon or Company.  Your time was measured in ‘wakies’ and you expressed   your days to go as ‘so many days and a wakey’.  You tended to mix with   experienced diggers (they were tested and reliable and had proven themselves),   kept away from the ‘reos’, mixed only with your section as you could rely upon   their skills and acquired professionalism in a firelight.  The Section was your   world and you rarely heard anything about what was happening in other Platoons   and Companies (except when they had casualties).  By the time your tour was up   you couldn’t wait to get home even though you may have felt guilty about leaving   your Section.  Unfortunately, the return to Australia was not as expected.  Many   things had changed after 12 months in-country.

In drawing   together the points made in this section, I firmly believe that the impact of   military training and the type of warfare the soldier is involved in has severe   consequences in the severity, the nature and the treatment aspects of PTSD.  As   pointed out the Australians fought a different war to the Americans.  One of   mundane search and destroy missions, ambush patrols, the constant stress of slow   movement through the bush, taking even several hours to cover a few kilometres,   constant stopping, listening for enemy activity and then moving on again.  All   the time being hyperalert, searching the tree lines for ‘hides’, listening,   watching and waiting.  The Americans, on the other hand, often mounted large   scale actions supported by immense artillery and air support, were highly mobile   and used different tactical doctrine.

By nature of   the Australian soldier’s experiences it is felt that any effort for treatment   should initially address the nature of the soldier’s military training and how   that training has influence on his operational style and attitude.  The military   has developed its own unique client group of programmed, concrete thinkers with   rigid perspectives on life.  It is felt that therapeutic change can be achieved   by taking the veteran through a deprogramming process which encourages him to   think in shades of grey, to share his feelings, and to assist him to communicate   more effectively.  As discussed previously, the military means of education is   so deeply ingrained into the soldier to the extent, even 30 years after the   event, he is still living his life in a military manner.  That is, how they do   everyday things, how they relate to their family members, how they organise   themselves at work and socially, how they handle their rage, how they handle   their problems and the list is endless.  Coupled to the nature of the training   is the nature of their diverse duties in Vietnam.

Having worked   professionally with war traumatised and non-war traumatised clients diagnosed   with PTSD, I believe the circumstances of war and non-war caused trauma are   different.  That is, being traumatised in a combat situation could be viewed   differently to being traumatised in a car accident.  Both traumatic experiences   are different by the nature of the event and different due to the extended   duration of the stressful event.  Couple this view with soldiers being healthy   and at their physical peak, the nature of the soldier’s training (instinctive   obedience, denial, desensitisation, programming, warrior class, etc) then it is   feasible to argue that technically they should be prepared for the worst.  Yet,   over the years more and more Vietnam Veterans are being diagnosed with   clinically severe PTSD with delayed onset.  However, this trend has seemed to   have peaked in recent years.

Anti-war protestors in silent vigil outside Parliament House March 1968
Image L69311 from National Archives of Australia
Series A1200 Recorded by Australian News and Information Bureau


It is understandable that Australia’s fittest and finest were disillusioned when they returned home.  While on active service they had their ‘R and R’ (Rest and Recuperation) and when they again hit Australian soil they experienced a new ‘R and R’ … Resettlement and Resentment.  Having gone through the worst experience possible and not having your efforts appreciated by society can be a thwarting experience.

I have just finished reading Silence Kills by Jim Cairns (the politician responsible for the Vietnam Moratorium Campaign).  He talks about the events that led up to the Vietnam Moratorium held on 8 May 1970 where between 70 000 –100 000 Australians marched in the capital cities throughout Australia protesting the Vietnam War.  Not once did he mention the loss of Australian life, the wounded, the impact of fighting in a foreign country and the knowledge that fellow Australians did not support you.  His writings justified the need to have Australian soldiers withdrawn from the conflict, not because they were being killed and wounded, but because Vietnam was an American war and Australia should not be supporting American Imperialism.  His book contained graphic scenes of the atrocities committed by American troops and its associated inferences about Australian troops supporting this behaviour.  Imagine the feeling of Australian troops fighting for what they believed was correct at the time and knowing that you were not supported by your own country.  Perhaps Jim Cairns was too busy politicising his dogmatism to realise that during the year 1970, the year of the Moratorium, 68 Australians died while fighting in Vietnam.  Remember that politicians of the day create wars, soldiers just obey orders and fight them.

I feel that the Moratorium was the turning point for our involvement in Vietnam.  From that day the political change in attitude saw the staging down of the conflict.  Unfortunately, society seemed more concerned about the Vietnamese people and the carnage that occurred than what was happening to the Australian soldiers.  While in Vietnam the posties weren’t delivering mail, the wharfies were not loading ships with essential supplies and some Australians were taking up collections to support the other side.  Over the next few years with the winding down of Australia’s commitment, many soldiers just slipped quietly back into Australia, were told to grow their hair long, not to be seen in public in uniform and try to get on with their lives.

For R and R (in the military sense) it’s hard to imagine that one day you’re ‘in-country’, having seen bloodshed and carnage and 24 hours later you’re back home with your family and friends … and wondering why you can’t adjust or more importantly you can’t relate to anyone, not even your family.  How often were you asked by your mates with whom you grew up ‘how many VC did you kill’? It’s strange how your childhood friends now had become distant, your own self-realisation that you had little in common with them and you were now beginning to wonder what you ever saw in some of them.  Their ignorance of the Vietnam War (most were not aware of where Vietnam was on the map), their immaturity, their anti Vietnam attitude (but you were ‘OK’ and were accepted because you were a mate), their lack of political awareness, dad wanting you to go down to the pub for a drink so he could show you off to his mates … the done thing during former conflicts but not acceptable during the Vietnam War.  Lastly, mum who suffered in silence just being thankful that you had survived this far.  These attitudes all contributed to a feeling of alienation.  Further, you longed to get back to your unit as you felt you were letting your comrades down and besides, they were someone you had something in common with.

The return to Mascot airport in the middle of the night, dumped at holding establishments, held over until the military could finalise your paperwork and told to make your own way home, leaves a feeling of alienation toward the military.  Many were rejected by the RSLs, shunned upon by Korean and World War II veterans who believed that Vietnam was a police action and not a war, couldn’t relate to their mates whom they had grown up with and had difficulty settling back into the workforce.  For National Servicemen the going was harder.  The Regulars were part of a family, the Regiment or the Corps.  They came home to a world of messes and support, the secure world they knew before they left.  Most conscripts were 20-years old on their tour.  At the time they were forced to fight for their country but had no say or rights in elections.  The voting age was reduced from 21 years to 18 years much later.  Most ‘nashos’ probably grew up more quickly and had more life experiences during their twelve months tour in Vietnam than they have had during the rest of their lives.  Imagine your son or daughter today, at 20 years of age, having to go to war … it’s hard to fathom.

Ever wondered why armies of the world prefer to conscript 18 – 20 year olds for military service? They are impressionable, they are at their peak of fitness but most of all, their moral conscience hasn’t developed.  They cannot, or will not, distinguish between right or wrong with regard to taking life and a lawful order.  They are at a stage of their development where they are impressionable, their minds can be moulded, they lack the life skills necessary for manhood, they are adventurous, they have few commitments and they are subservient to a higher authority.  It is these qualities that make the ideal soldier.

Overall, the nature of military training and their operational service does not prepare the veteran well for family or civilian life.  The smoking and alcohol, though significant, are secondary to the other traits they develop while in the service.  They bring to the family concrete rigidity in their thinking, rules and regulations, relate to family members as if they’re still in the army (don’t ask – just tell), rage, and for some, domestic violence and psychological abuse.  Career soldiers were rarely home (always on exercise or extra duties) and rarely saw their children.  Children couldn’t understand their father’s abruptness, rage and coldness, a legacy that has continued into the child’s later life, where, even now they still cannot relate to their father and visa versa.  The wife, feeling as if she is walking on egg shells, always makes excuses to the children for the father’s behaviour, becoming frustrated and taking on the symptomatology of her partner, often suffering from anxiety or depression and often on some form of medication.  Another associated condition of PTSD is a lack of self-esteem or confidence.  Many veterans are overly possessive and tend to control their relationships by subtle psychological abuse or at worst domestic violence.  By putting down their partner they ensure that they will lack the confidence to leave the relationship or even to move on.  Unfortunately, the veteran is rarely aware of what is happening, he is the last to realise that he has the problem and not everyone else.

The partner often feels trapped in a relationship which lacks love and affection.  I find that the partners are very loyal to the veteran and I sometimes feel that it should have been the wives who got the medals for what they had been put through and not their husbands.

Many veterans present as cold and lacking emotion to their family and this is not surprising.  The intimacy soldiers share with their mates in a shell scrape, each depending upon each other for their lives, can never be experienced in a normal relationship.  Similarly, the surprise a wife experiences when a veteran shows a lack of emotion when someone close dies.  Veterans have experienced death before and have learnt not to show emotions or hurt which was ingrained into them during their training and while on operational service.  It is not unusual that the veteran cannot relate his fears and concerns to his wife, the closest person in his life.  It is not surprising that the wife has difficulty accepting that her partner will go to counselling and disclose his inner secrets about his war experiences to a complete outsider.  Perhaps the partner doesn’t realise that the veteran is only protecting her from the psychological burden he has to carry.. as one veteran stated when he was asked wouldn’t it be more appropriate to share his problems with his partner and not a stranger … “that’s my shit, I have to carry it and besides, she wouldn’t understand”.  Perhaps many veterans underestimate the capacity of their partners.

On top of the unique training are the individual experiences of the soldier when he was in Vietnam.  The return home to a society who didn’t care, rejected by the RSL, and then expected to re-enter the workforce again. How does one settle down after going through the ultimate experience … having power over life and death?  It’s not surprising that returned veterans had difficulties with jobs, couldn’t tolerate fools or couldn’t settle down to mundane work tasks.  All the factors briefly outlined above form a basis for resentment and guilt which is even today being carried by veterans.


After the WW I there were few books published on the experiences of the soldier and his war in the trenches.  The few publications that were written were by English officers.  One needs to appreciate that during this time the working classes had few literacy skills, few kept diaries and it was left to the officer class to record history.  The officer class at the turn of the Century were generally recruited from the landed gentry who gained their commissions by not what they knew but more by whom they knew (many lacking literacy skills but excelled in sports and the traditions of the Public School system).  They had little interest in writing or recording significant events of their military service.  After the initial carnage of trench warfare these officers were depleted rapidly and the source of potential recruits was no more.  The War Department turned to the newly emerging middle classes who were an emerging product of the late Victorian era (teachers, businessmen, journalists, etc.) who kept diaries, made records and were prolific letter writers, who in turn preserved the true history of trench warfare.  After WW I few publications came onto the market but by the mid thirties there appeared a flood of publications (a good 10 – 15 years after the event).

WW II saw a similar pattern with very few personal accounts of the war from a soldier’s perspective.  However, in the early 60s’ many personal accounts of the soldier’s war began to appear on the market (again, a good 10-15 years after the event).  From an Australian perspective very few books written by soldiers were ever published after the event especially pertaining to the Great War.  Why is it that World War II veterans rarely discussed their experiences and why is it that in recent years bookshops have become flushed with stories and biographies of the veteran and their experiences (over 40 years after the event)?  You only have to visit an ABC bookshop to confirm this observation.  The same pattern is also true for the Korean and the Vietnam Wars.  Books on Vietnam were scarce in the 70s’ and 80s’ and now there are new publications emerging on a regular basis (again 15 – 20 years after the event).

Putting aside the issue that over the past 100 years veterans have become better educated and have had easier access to higher education as well as electronic avenues for writing publications, the main reason for this silence has been a psychological moratorium on their war experiences.  One could argue that when the veteran returned home from a war all they wanted to do was to get on with their lives and put the horrors of it behind them.  Time, the aging process and its associated decline in physical capacity, mental alertness and coping skills, saw more veterans finding that they couldn’t divorce themselves from the past.  The aging process does that to a person regardless of whether they are a veteran or not.  As they aged, their capacities to cope became remarkably reduced.  Traumatised veterans generally find the road to travel a little more difficult and resort to self-medication, substance abuse, abnormal behaviours and even suicide.  Many seek professional help, write articles, books, join veteran support groups or veteran associations with the view of seeking support or answers and yet many are able to block out their war experiences and lead a normal life.  Of the veterans I have met, many are prolific poets and it’s hard to grasp that the sensitivity and emotions that flow from their poetry was actually written by a person who presented as being grossly insensitive to the world around him.  The writing of books and poetry appears to provide a cathartic reaction for the veterans, a forum expressing their feelings by the written word.

Why is it that many Vietnam veterans are only now seeking professional help or beginning to realise that they may have a problem?  There seems to be a consistency in the time after the various conflicts for when problems or when the ‘awakening occurs’.  A pattern appears to emerge at around 45 years onwards as they approach middle age and the main consequence of this is that their ability to cope is reduced considerably.  Many veterans being workaholics find they can’t maintain the pace, begin to become disorganised, can’t make decisions but more importantly lose their motivation.

They find feelings and emotions they have not experienced for near on 30 years being evoked.  They may find watching a documentary on TV about the plight of refugees in Asia or Bosnia and all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, they become overwhelmed with emotion and have difficulty containing the tears in their eyes.  They will probably get up from the lounge, feeling disgusted with themselves, and leave the TV room in case someone else sees their emotional state (veterans don’t like to show their weaknesses and this brave front is often misconstrued by others as arrogance).  The same experiences may occur while reading a book, watching a movie or even playing with your children or grandchildren.  For no explainable reason you are experiencing emotions that you haven’t experienced for a long time.  Reasons for this may be found in the following discussion I had recently with a veteran who was recounting an experience where he had shot a young 14-year-old Vietnamese boy during a curfew.  I asked him how did he feel about what he had done.  He replied “at the time it didn’t bother me, I was doing my job. My mates in my section even congratulated me for a good shot … bringing him down on the run in poor light. But now it hurts and really pains, I have a son who is nearly 14-years-old”.

Most veterans will agree that there appears to be the magical age when the ‘wheels start wobbling and fall off”.  They have a unique and graphic language of their own “he’s out of his tree” or “his wheels have fallen off”, having greater clarity and meaning than that given in a diagnoses by a medical professional.  The cynics would argue differently, they are only after the TPI or what some would call the ‘Holy Grail’ … the veterans never ending quest to attain.  I would tend to disagree with the cynics and raise this question…. How is it that a veteran (be it Korean, Vietnam or Peacekeeper) from the outback of Northern Queensland and a veteran living in Cooktown can relate similar symptoms and psychological experiences and not have met or have been in contact with other veterans or health professionals?  Their stories are the same as are those of many veterans who have never sought help before.

Granted, there are some veterans who do rort the system but that’s something they have to live with, as they take away from the genuine veterans a sense of credibility and make it harder for them to be appropriately compensated for their condition.

Why is that current serving Peacekeepers and recent veterans form Namibia, Somalia, Rwanda, East Timor, etc., are also seeking professional help both within and outside the military system?  For some the onset of PTSD symptoms have occurred already, the characteristic behaviours of substance abuse, rage, domestic violence and marital dysfunction are only some of the problems many are experiencing.  Another interesting observation about recent Peacekeepers is that a large number have left the services since they returned from overseas service and these soldiers have been mainly from the line battalions.  I firmly believe that if the issue of the current problems of former and current serving Peacekeepers is not addressed now, the problems they will face by the time they reach mid-life will be insurmountable.  Governments and policy makers never learn from their mistakes, they tend to visit the same problem but under a different banner.

To answer the initial question raised – does it get better? – the answer is yes.  PTSD and other associated disorders can be controlled by education, counselling and medication.  At this stage in our understanding of PTSD there is no quick fix for the condition but it can be controlled so that a veteran may be able to experience a reasonable quality of life.  However, this depends on the attitude of the veteran, as many don’t feel they have a problem, it’s the rest of society that does.  But, for those that take the first step by admitting there is something wrong and seek professional help, their situations can change.  For those veterans who are reading this book and want to take the first step then all they need to do is turn to the help section.  The best advice a veteran suffering from war trauma can have is to become better informed and to shop around.  You need answers to what has happened to you, keep an open mind and listen to as many people and read as much as possible about your circumstances and then make an informed decision about the road you want to travel. Many have with no regrets.

In finishing off this section, too many publications on PTSD and war related trauma have been aimed at a specific market.  They are mainly theoretical or medical in content and are written for the medical and allied health professionals.  At the other end of the spectrum are those books written from an individual’s perspective of their experiences of the war or unit histories.  There has been little written addressing the problems of PTSD as related to the current veteran’s situation.  Patience Mason’s book, Recovering from War goes fairly close as it is the best publication in this area as it relates the personal experiences of a person coming to terms with being married to a veteran.   The offerings in this booklet hopes to address this aspect from an Australian perspective.


Looking for answers to the Vietnam Veteran experience is difficult as the topic is still very political.  An enduring legacy of their war has been the continuing dilemma of health and welfare issues.  Veterans were largely ignored after 1972 until the ‘Welcome Home Parade’ took place in Sydney (3 October 1987).  Though the parade was long overdue it still did not resolve many of the issues that still plague the veteran and their families today.  Harper (1995) argues that there were three main reasons for continued resentment by the veteran toward the Federal Government.  Firstly, since 1972 veterans have experienced hostility and then apathy towards their claims (i.e. a Royal Commission, Health Studies and Reports all creating more questions than they have answered).  Secondly, society at large has generally appeared unwilling to confront and openly deal with the soldiers of a ‘lost war’.  Third, and more important, is the view by many Australians who can’t understand why the veterans of Vietnam were any different to those of WW I and WW II.  He continues by citing the work of veteran organisations that have lobbied in earnest for official inquiries into the plight of the veteran, especially the contentious issue of Agent Orange (2,4,5-T) on which the jury is still out.  I find it ironic that veterans can fight a war together but can’t work together during peacetime and this is evident by the number of veteran groups that exist around Australia.  Perhaps one day it may click that the only way they will get a better deal for themselves, their partners and children, is by providing a united front and working together for a common cause.

Finally, Gary best sums up the sentiments of many veterans in the closing remarks of his paper he presented to the group of health professionals in Dubbo…  It is earnestly hoped that the information herein will give veterans an awakened sense of what is happening in the minds of those whose sole purpose in life is to care for our welfare.  Perhaps the words of Lt. George Witton are as meaningful for all veterans, counselling staff and DVA Determining Officers today as when he wrote them, in 1901:

War is calculated to make men’s natures both callous and vengeful, and when civilised rules and customs are departed from on one side, reprisals are sure to follow on the other, and the shocking side of warfare in the shape of guerrilla tactics is seen.  At such a time it is not fair to judge the participants by the hard and fast rules of citizen life or the strict moral codes of peace.  It is necessary to imagine oneself midst the same surroundings – in an isolated place, with the passions of war aroused, men half-starved, dangers constantly threatening from all quarters, and responsibilities crowding one upon another – to enable a fair decision to be reached.

ptsd3Australian soldiers move into a village during a “Cordon and Search” operation. Image L64193 from National Archives of Australia.
Series A1200 Recorded by Australian News and Information Bureau



While this ends the article, it by no means exhausts the list of symptoms indicating the existence of PTSD.  If you think it does not apply to you, think again and stop fooling yourself.  If you don’t wish to file a disability claim but believe you do have problems but do NOT wish to visit a health professional, then visit your local Veteran group or speak with a good mate and make a joint decision to do something about it.   If your family have become secondary victims of YOUR problems, you owe it to them to seek help.

Above all, do not reproach yourself.  Other veterans of other wars spent long periods in holding camps and on boat trips, unwinding after combat and were met by adoring crowds who welcomed them as heroes.  You were dumped-on by toxic chemicals; saw your mates blown apart and 48 hours later found yourself in an unaware and uncaring society where its members were often openly hostile.

What Gary is saying, is that veterans have been carrying a heavy load and need to get things out of their system even thirty years after the event.  Sharing your problems with your wife, partner, another veteran or health professional is a form of psychological deprogramming, something that has never occurred for many veterans.

I have purposely kept away from the problems of wives, partners and children as I feel that one could stock a library about the problems they have encountered being a part of a veteran’s life.  If you feel your wife or partner or children need answers to why you are like you are, I strongly recommend Patience H. C. Mason’s (1990) book Recovering From the War: A Guide for all Veterans, Family Members, Friends and Therapists.

Now, having read this little booklet and you feel that you can relate to some of issues raised then it’s time to take the next step.  In the following section is a list of all Vietnam Veteran Counselling Centres (VVCS) throughout Australia.  The section also details eligibility requirements, types of services offered and some general information about the Service.  You owe it to yourself, your family and your friends.



VVCS – what is it?

VVCS is a specialised, free and confidential service providing counselling and group programs for veterans and their families, provided by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs not only to Vietnam veterans, but also veterans of other conflicts and peacekeeping or peacemaking missions, as well as certain family members.  Staff have extensive knowledge concerning war and its effects on veterans and their families, both long and short term.

What is VVCS Counselling?

In a friendly and safe setting, counsellors help people address problems in their lives with the aim of finding effective solutions for an improved quality of life.

Who are VVCS Staff?

VVCS counselling staff are professionally qualified social workers or psychologists.  They are skilled in the treatment of a wide range of war or service related conditions, including post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

How can VVCS help?

The trauma of war can have lasting effects for veterans and their families.  These may include personal crises at work or home, marital and family issues, employment issues, alcohol and drug abuse, and other physical or emotional difficulties.  VVCS counsellors are available to help, whether or not these problems are obviously war-related.  Recognition, counselling and group programs may help prevent breakdowns in health and emotional well-being.

Who can use the VVCS?

  • Australian veterans of all conflicts (e.g. WWI, WWII, Korea, Malaya, Borneo, Vietnam) and peacekeeping operations (Cambodia, Somalia, Rwanda, East Timor, etc);
  • Veterans’ partners and their dependent children;
  • current and ex-serving members of the Australian armed forces who may or may not have served in a conflict zone ( but who have entitlements under the Veterans Entitlement Act); and
  • People with an interest in or concern for a veteran’s welfare can seek advice

Do Veterans need entitlement cards?

No. Veterans and their immediate family can have counselling even if they do not have an accepted war-related disability.

Referrals to the VVCS

  • Veterans and/or members of their families can refer themselves.
  • Medical Practitioners, other health and welfare workers and ex-service organisations can refer by telephone, letter or recommend self-referral.
  • Rural veterans, family members and service providers can use the toll-free telephone number to contact VVCS.

VVCS CAN make a difference

Client surveys show 90% of clients have been satisfied with our services and would recommend VVCS to others.

What does VVCS provide?

  • Individual, couple and family counselling
  • Treatment for the effects of war, and other emotional and behavioural problems.
  • Group Programs
  • Educative and therapeutic groups are available to enhance the quality of life for veterans.
  • Country Outreach Program
  • Local access to professional counsellors and trained volunteers for veterans and their families living in rural areas.

Veterans Line

After hours and on public holidays, Veterans Line, the toll-free emergency telephone counselling service can be contacted.


Referrals can be arranged for medical and other special services (e.g. in-patient treatment programs for post-traumatic stress disorder, VVCS residential lifestyle management programs and emergency accommodation where available).


Health and welfare information is available on issues that effect veterans and their families.

Community Development

Assistance is available to community-based veterans groups through a process of education, skill development and project support.


Where are VVCS Centres?



Telephone (02) 6247 2988 or
1800 011 046 (24 hours)

Ground   Floor, Suite G03,   Fujitsu House
7-9 Moore Street



Telephone   (02) 9635 9733 or
1800 043 503 (24 hours)

88 Phillip Street, Ground Floor


Telephone   (02) 6622 4479 or
1800 043 503 (24 hours)

Office   6, Level 1, Conway Court
17 Conway Street   (Entrance Molesworth Street)


Telephone   (02) 4940 8844 or
1800 043 503 (24 hours)

60 Glebe Road



Telephone   (08) 8927 9411 or
1800 011 046 (24 hours)

Shop   6, Cascom Centre
Bradshaw Terrace



Telephone   (07) 3831 6100 or
1800 011 046 (24 hours

GHD   House
15 Astor Terrace


Telephone   (07) 5479 3992 or
1800 011 046 (24 hours)

17 Carnaby Street


Telephone   (07) 5591 6332 or
1800 011 046 (24 hours)

Regent Plaza
12 Short Street


Telephone   (07) 4723 9155 or
1800 019 332 (24 hours)

Shop   4-6 Kirwan Plaza
42 Thuringowa Drive



Telephone   (08) 8290 0300 or
1800 011 046 (24 hours)

99 Frome Street



Telephone   (03) 6231 0488 or
1800 011 046 (24 hours)

2   Castray Esplanade


Telephone   (03) 6331 7500 or
1800 011 046 (24 hours)

29 Elphin Road



Telephone  (03) 8640 8700 or
1800 011 046 (24 hours)

Level 4, 440 Elizabeth Street Melbourne VIC 3000


Telephone   (02) 6056 1341 or
1800 011 046 (24 hours)

81 Hume Street



Telephone   (08) 9481 1955 or
1800 011 046 (24 hours)

31 Ventnor Avenue
Ground Floor


AATTV Australian   Army Training Team, Vietnam
AK 47 A   rifle commonly used by the VC and NVA
Battalion (Bn) Australian   infantry formation of approximately 800 men led by a Lieutenant Colonel
CASEVAC Casualty   Evacuation
[Victor] Charley Phonetic   alphabet for VC (Viet Cong)
Company (Coy)  Australian   infantry formation of approximately 110 men led by a Major
DSM   III Medical   book that outlines psychiatric disorders
DSM   III-R A   later version of the above book
DSM-IV Current   version of the medical book
Dust-off Casualty   evacuation by helicopter
Friendly   fire Small   arms or artillery fire from Australian or allied forces
FO Forward   Observer
FSPB Fire   Support and Patrolling Base
Gook Vietnamese   (civilian or soldier) – slang
Grunt Australian   infantryman – slang
Hoochie Australian   issued field equipment used as a tent – slang
KIA Killed   in Action
M60 7.62mm   medium machinegun issued to Australian soldiers
Nog Vietnamese   (civilian or soldier) – slang
NVA North   Vietnamese Army
Platoon   (Pl) Australian   infantry formation of approximately 33 men led by a Lieutenant or Second   Lieutenant
PR   19 Australian Army Officer’s Annual Performance Appraisal report
PR   66 Australian Army Other Ranks Annual Performance Appraisal report
PTSD Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
RAR Royal Australian Regiment
RPG   7 Rocket Propelled Grenade launcher – VC/NVA anti-tank and anti-personnel weapon
RSL Returned and Services League of Australia – the largest ex-Service organisation in Australia
Section   (Sec) Australian infantry formation of approximately 10 men led by a Corporal
Silk Australian issued field blanket liner for sleeping in
Skippy   badge  Badge of the Royal Australian Regiment (RAR) with kangaroo and crossed rifles.
Slope Vietnamese (civilian or military) – slang
Stitched Shot by an automatic weapon
Victor   Charley Phonetic alphabet for VC
VC  Viet Cong (see also Charlie or Victor Charley)
Wakie  The day you “woke up” to go home
WO   I Warrant Officer Class I
WIA Wounded in Action


I have purposely listed several books which I found gave me many answers to the Vietnam experience and the effects of war.  Books are like a jig-saw puzzle, the more you read the better you are to make informed decisions about your situation.  The more books you read the clearer the jig-saw puzzle becomes until in the end you have a picture of intense clarity.  People are also like jig-saw puzzles – the more information you obtain about your situation or problems, or the more pieces of the puzzle you are able to piece together, the more clearer the problem or the picture becomes.  In the end you are able to make informed decisions about what is best for you. However, whatever you read please read with an open mind.

British and American Books

Caputo, P (1977) A Rumour of War. New York: Holt, Rhinehart and Winston.

Chanof, D & Van Toai, D (1986) Portrait of the Enemy – The Other Side of War in Vietnam. London: I. B. Taurus.

French, A. (1998) Patches of Fire. A Story of War and Redemption. London: Vintage Random House.

Fussell, P. (1989) Wartime. New York: OxfordUniversity Press

Grossman, D (1996) On Killing, Little Brown & Company, Canada.

Kovic, R. (1976) Born on the Fourth of July. New York: New York Press.

Lawrence, T. E., (1926) Seven Pillars of Wisdom. New York: Doubleday.

Mason, P. (1990) Recovering From the War. A Guide for all Veterans, Family Members, Friends and Therapists. Florida: Patience Mason Press

Mason, R. (1883) Chickenhawk. New York: Viking Press.

McManners, H. (1994) The Scars of War, Harper Collins Publishers, London.

Santoli, A. (1985) To Bear Any Burden. New York: E. P. Dutton.

Australian Books

Bowden, T.(1988) One Crowded Hour. Sydney: Collins.

Burstall, T.(1990) A Soldier Returns. University of Queensland Press.

Burstall, T.(1986) A Soldier’s Story, University of Queensland Press.

Coulthard-Clark, C.(1997) Hit My Smoke. Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Crowley, B (1997) View From A Low Bough, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Dousset, R. (1997) Rotor In Green, Published by Raymond Dousset.

Hennessey, B. (1997) The Sharp End, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

King, P. (Ed) (1983) Australia‘s Vietnam, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

MacGregor, S. (1993) No Need For Heroes, CALM Pty Ltd, Lindfield, NSW.

McAuley, L. (1998) The Battle Of Coral, Hutchinson, Australia.

McHugh, S (1993) Minefields And Miniskirts, DoubleDay Books.

McKay, Gary (1996) In Good Company – One Man’s War In Vietnam, Allen and Unwin.

O’Brien, M. (1995) Conscripts and Regulars, Allen and Unwin.

Ravenscroft, B. (1997) Contact-Wait Out.LismoreCity Printery, Lismore. NSW.

Stone, G.(1966) War Without Honour. Brisbane: Jacaranda Press.

Stretton, A.(1978) Soldier in a Storm.Sydney: Collins