The Vietnam War continued to cast a long shadow over a generation of Australian servicemen and servicewomen, well after the war was over.
Five decades after their service in Vietnam, many veterans live with the enduring impacts of that conflict.
Wars have always had a lasting effect on the lives of those who have fought them, but rarely, if ever, have the legacies of war been the subject of such public debate as with Vietnam.
The rejection of veterans on their return, debate about the impacts of Agent Orange, and the slow but growing understanding of PTSD (originally called ‘Post-Vietnam syndrome’), all contributed to making the post-war experiences of Vietnam veterans very different from those of veterans of Australia’s earlier wars.
Now an independent history that analyses and documents the medical legacies of the Vietnam War has been published. The Council of the Australian War Memorial endorsed the commissioning of Dr Peter Yule to write, The Long Shadow: Australia’s Vietnam Veterans Since the War, which is the culmination of a four-year project made possible through a bequest.
Based on interviews with veterans and analysis of hundreds of medical and scientific studies of veterans’ health, The Long Shadow is a comprehensive examination of the entire range of medical legacies of the Vietnam War. It also tells the story of the political battles over veterans’ health, and examines the reactions of government to veterans’ health issues.
Dr Yule, a research fellow at the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne, said: “There has long been a divergence between the ‘official’ version of veterans’ health put forward by governments in Australia and the United States, and the lived experience of the veterans themselves. My primary concern when researching this history was to listen to the veterans and to let their voices be heard.”
Director of the Australian War Memorial, Matt Anderson, said the medical legacies of the Vietnam War are a continuing issue for veterans and their families, yet the popular impressions of them are often far from the reality and it is important this history is told.
“This medical history lays to rest some of the misconceptions and establishes for the first time an accurate picture of the health of Vietnam veterans. Many veterans believe that their service and sacrifice were never properly recognised and that their health problems were ignored, trivialised or denied altogether. This book provides a way to share those experiences from a veteran perspective,” Mr Anderson said.
The Long Shadow is published by New South Publishing and is available in all good bookshops and from the Australian War Memorial’s shop and online at www.awm.gov.au/shop/item/YULEKIT01.