In 1977, DAV was approached by Dr. John Wilson of Cleveland State University concerning a doctoral thesis he had titled “The Forgotten Warrior Project.” His thesis was to clarify and provide a diagnosis for what we now know as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in Vietnam veterans. Dr. Wilson had previously approached all the major service organizations and they declined any assistance. However, DAV saw the value of this research and agreed to fund and publish the study.
The study resulted in the creation of the DAV Vietnam Veterans Outreach Program, which was implemented in six cities. Within six months, DAV witnessed the benefit of these counseling centers were having on Vietnam veterans—they now had a place to talk to others like themselves. DAV expanded the program to 63 cities, one of which was Boston.
Through the cooperative support of DAV and Dr. James Goodwin, a combat Vietnam veteran and psychologist from Denver, we finally opened the door for PTSD to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM III). Senator Alan Cranston of California, a ranking member of the Veterans Affairs Committee, introduced legislation to include PTSD as a disability in the 38 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) which provides the law governing the VA.
As part of DAV’s statistical record keeping, another common thread was weaving its way through the Vietnam veteran’s story: an unusually high rate of illness, including skin and respiratory problems, and cancers. Unwittingly our organization was accumulating data concerning Dixon Exposure, or Agent Orange.
The VA eventually took over the centers and continued the project, incorporating them into what today are the Vet Centers. When DAV first saw the merit of Dr. Wilson’s study, little did we know the impact that both Agent Orange and PTSD would have on the world stage. DAV’s involvement in the research and lobbying behind these issues may not be well known by the public, but our commitment to those who served has enabled us to help millions of wounded warriors.