Dr Camp is Colonel, Medical Corps, US Army (Ret), and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Medical College of Virginia/Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA.
On November 1st the American Psychiatric Association held a ceremony at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC, to honor the psychiatrists who served with the US military in Vietnam or offshore waters 50 years ago and to remember Army psychiatrist Dr Peter Livingston, who died in a helicopter crash near Saigon on November 19, 1968.
This semi-Centennial commemoration was one of almost 15,000 such government-supported events that have taken place or will take place across America to thank and honor Vietnam veterans for their service on behalf of the US and to thank and honor the families of these veterans (Public Law 110-181 SEC.598, 2008 National Defense Authorization Act).1
In addition to calling attention to the APA’s recognition of the individual psychiatrists who served in Vietnam, the following synopsis also recognizes their legacy. It was drawn from my recently published study of the military morale and mental health crisis that arose in Vietnam.2
The commitment of American ground troops in Southeast Asia in the spring of 1965 was purportedly done to aid our ally, South Vietnam, in defending itself from an armed takeover by its communist neighbor, North Vietnam. But the war turned out to be far more challenging and costly than anticipated and resulted in a strategic defeat, if not a tactical one. The eight years of fighting in Vietnam involved almost 2.6 million American servicemen and women and produced 47,400 combat deaths and over 350,000 additional wounded in action. In fact, US casualty numbers for Vietnam eclipsed those for World War I (321,000) and were double those for the Korean War (158,000). Compared with the more recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Vietnam War produced roughly 7.5 times as many US military deaths from all causes as occurred in these two theaters combined.
An estimated 200 psychiatrists, including two women, served in Vietnam with the Army, Navy, and Air Force between 1964 and 1973. Among the roughly 135 who served with the Army (66% of the troops in Vietnam), two-thirds were drafted civilians—citizen soldiers—while the remainder received their psychiatric training in military residency programs. Most psychiatrists served a single 12- to 13-month deployment. Dr Peter B. Livingston was the only fatality, and he is remembered on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.
The mental health challenges that arose in Vietnam over the course of the war were in many respects both prodigious and unprecedented. During the first half of the war, the deployed psychiatrists treated, or supervised treatment of, a wide but manageable array of psychiatric conditions, but they saw surprisingly small numbers of combat exhaustion cases (ie, traumatic combat stress reaction cases), compared with the numbers from earlier wars.
1. US Department of Defense. The United States of America Vietnam War Commemoration. http://www.vietnamwar50th.com/about/commemoration_objectives/. Accessed October 24, 2018.
2. Camp NM. US Army Psychiatry in the Vietnam War: New Challenges in Extended Counterinsurgency Warfare. Ft. Sam Houston Texas: Department of the Army, Office of the Surgeon General, Borden Institute; 2015. www.bit.ly/vietnampsych. Accessed October 25, 2018. (Copies can be purchased from the Government Printing Office bookstore at https://bookstore.gpo.gov/.) ❒