Help Without Hassles: Instituting Community-Based Care for U.S. Veterans after the War in Vietnam

Friday, October 1, 2021

In 1979, the U.S. Congress approved funding for an outpatient, community-based “readjustment counseling” program to be overseen by the Veterans Administration (VA) and accessible to those who had served in the military during the era of the war in Vietnam. Today, three hundred Vet Centers are located throughout the country and their doors are open to veterans of a variety of conflicts; they outnumber VA hospitals two to one. This article explores conditions undergirding the establishment of the first Vet Centers and the program’s broader implications, as well as the general issue of why public health systems change over time. Highlighting dynamics of how the VA gradually “deinstitutionalized” in the mid-twentieth century, it focuses on trends related to war and health, notions of federal responsibility, health activism and rights of people from marginalized groups, and connections between political ideology and medical diagnoses and treatment.