Returning Vietnam vets spur 1975 enrollment increase

By SIERRA J. RUSSELL

In 1975, Pima Community College had the highest enrollment of veterans in the state. The Vietnam War was ending, unemployment rates were high and many veterans were searching for a new direction in life.

The influx of veteran students required policies to be updated in order to match the growing number of students relying on the GI Bill to finance their studies.

There were concerns that some veterans would receive financial aid, then fail to attend classes or take courses that weren’t required for their degree. This caused the Veteran’s Administration to set stricter guidelines, which ultimately made it more difficult for veteran students seeking aid.

At a Senate Veteran’s Affairs Committee hearing in 1982, Sen. Dennis DeConcini spoke about his efforts to balance a tight budget.

“I believe that veterans are a very special category of citizens,” DeConcini said. “They served their country with every expectation that promised benefits and services would be honored.”

In the hearing, there were complaints that the VA was understaffed and under-funded, and that facilities were in dire need of expansion.

A related article from 1982 featured an interview with Bob Caldwell, a Vietnam veteran and counselor at Tucson’s Vietnam Vet Center.

“In Vietnam, tactics collapsed into an exhaustingly futile sequence,” Caldwell said. “Take it by day, lose it by night, fight to the death for a patch of incomprehensible land, then call in the slippery figures in the black body bags.”

Caldwell said that Vietnam vets had an especially hard time coping because they had been fighting a losing war and did not receive a warm welcome home when they returned.

Like many soldiers, Caldwell joined the military at a young age and was prepared to continue his education after serving. He attended the University of Arizona and earned his master’s degree, yet he struggled with feelings of alienation.

“When I first returned to school, I felt like a foreigner,” Caldwell said, adding that he was often accused of being “morally bankrupt” for serving in the military.

At the Tucson Vietnam Vet Center, Caldwell helped counsel others who were struggling with similar issues.

Post-traumatic stress disorder had recently been identified by the American Psychiatric Association and was previously termed “shell shock” by many doctors who thought it was linked to artillery concussions.

Some of the symptoms include depression, hallucinations, recurring nightmares and withdrawal from personal contact.

The Vet Center helped counsel veterans who were experiencing “survivor guilt,” the notion that it should have been them who perished instead of their comrades.

The center also worked with friends, relatives and wives of veterans. The counselors helped them deal with common frustrations and misunderstandings.

“Right or wrong, the vets did it for us,” Caldwell said. “Veterans are the responsibility of all Americans.”

 

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