Contrary to popular beliefs about the lasting trauma of the Vietnam War, most veterans ultimately made a successful transition into the civilian economy, a new government study of Vietnam veterans and their work record shows.
"There is reason to believe the transition [into civilian life] was not easy, but we can say that, 15 or 20 years later, they are in fact much like other men of their ages," said Sharon Cohany, an economist at the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "The data does not speak to [the] years immediately following their release from service."
Ms. Cohany's report, the most complete study of its kind to date, compares the success in the job market of veterans who served in Southeast Asia between August 1964 and May 1975, veterans who served elsewhere during that time and those who were not in the military at all.
Her study shows that veterans who served in Southeast Asia do not enjoy average pay levels quite as high or unemployment levels quite as low as nonveterans or veterans who served in other theaters.
However, Vietnam vets were just as likely as nonveterans in 1989 to be a part of the labor force -- that is, working or looking for work. The unemployment rates were very close, 3.6 vs. 3.2 percent.
Those who saw combat in Southeast Asia did just as well as other veterans of the era, the study said.
The latest raw figures, from September 1991, shows the unemployment rate among Vietnam vets rose to 5.7 percent, compared with 4.5 percent for nonvets.
Ms. Cohany found that male veterans who served in other places have the best earnings record today, followed closely by nonveterans and Vietnam-theater vets. The average weekly earnings in 1989 were $551, $511 and $498, respectively.