I just did tours of duty in Vietman, what did the Marines provide to soldiers who left the service?

(We just did a post on leaving prison, so I though I’d start one on leaving military service.)

Years ago I was living in Oceanside, CA just north of the Marine base, Camp Pendleton. One of the guys I was living with befriended a fellow worker at La Costa Country Club who told us this story.

After two tours on the front lines in Vietnam, he’d seen enough fighting and death and wanted out. He was offered a bus ticket home to Texas, but didn’t want any part of the place he wanted to get away from by joining the Marines in the first place. He had had his service pay sent home , but had found out it had all been spent because it was a joint account with his mom. There was a little money left in his account that hadn’t been sent out yet. He took it, walked out the gate and took a taxi to a boarding house in Oceanside. He landed a job quite easily as a waiter and was a star employee according to my friend. He couldn’t handle living in a “box” and soon bought a tent and started living in the wilderness area next to La Costa in Carlsbad. Employees had showers and uniforms so he was able to keep clean. He visited the house frequently and was quite friendly, but if you were behind him, it was best to let him know so you didn’t surprise him. He was very “jumpy” and did not react well to sudden loud noises. We lived near the beach and had occasional helicopters fly along the coast. He would shoot up to his feet when one would come over.

He lasted about 6 months before he shot himself at his camp.

I was just wondering if this was a typical way a soldier could be discharged from the military back in the 1970’s. Just walking out the gate. I don’t know what I expected the military to do for someone like him, but it seems like such an abrupt charge from a “kill or be killed” situation one day to a regular civilian life the next.

Is it any different today? Does the military keep any sort of contact with just discharged soldiers to make sure they are adjusting well?

I had a couple of friends who were in Vietnam, one army and one marines. Basically they got a bus ticket and not much else. Long term, they got their GI bill and free (if crappy) medical care from the VA. Short term, nothing. Final pay check and out the door, basically.

The one that went into the army said it was a great experience as long as you didn’t get killed (that was how he put it). I didn’t meet him until many years after the war, but he said he never felt shell-shocked or anything even close to it, despite actually being shelled a few times. He drove an ammo truck shuttling ammo to where the fighting was, so he was definitely getting shot at quite a bit. He lost a bit of hearing in one ear from being shelled but otherwise said he suffered no ill effects and had no trouble adjusting when he came home.

The marine had some health issues related to getting shrapnel in his backside that required several surgeries after the war, but once that was straightened out he was fine. Again, I didn’t meet him until many years later so I can’t say what he was like straight out of the war.

There was a lot of talk back then of soldiers getting spit on when they came home. Neither one experienced anything like that.

Another close friend of mine was in the first Gulf war. He was a marine. It was basically almost Iraq one day and home the next. Technically he spent a couple of weeks in the U.S. before being discharged, but the shock of spending month after month in the desert in actual combat conditions and then being home was a bit much. When he first came home he acted very nervous and couldn’t sit still. It took a few months for him to get back to normal. After that he was fine.

I don’t think the military ever checked up on any of them.

My oldest brother did a tour in Vietnam. I am told he is more nervous and anxious than he was before. I was too young to notice at the time. My next brother was in Desert Storm and is definitely PTSD. He gets a lot of services from the VA because of his time overseas. Neither one had any long term health issues except for mental problems. I don’t think either got any monetary gain except for their expected pay. Both Marines.
Son-of-a-wrek spent a tour in Afghanistan, he currently thinks it was a big party and a waste of time. He was late to the terrible bombing and fighting. He got some schooling paid for afterwards. He says he wouldn’t go to the VA if it was the last place on earth to get a bandaid.

The only thing the military will do for you is pay your way back to your home of record. They give you your DD-213 (discharge paper), and you’re on your way.

This is secondhand from a friend who was a Captain in the Army(signals, not infantry), deployed to Iraq during the entirety of 2008, but they took him and the other guys who were rotating stateside and made them sort of decompress in Kuwait for about a month or so before shipping them home. Then at home, they weren’t immediately discharged either. Buddy had nothing good to say about Kuwait- apparently it was shitty, and just delayed getting home to no good end.

One thing to keep in mind is that only 10-15% of combat veterans end up with PTSD, so for the very vast majority of soldiers/airmen/sailors/marines (the vast majority are NOT combat veterans), it’s not a big deal to be discharged and sent home without much fanfare.

I knew several guys who came back from Nam at the time. I don’t recall any mention of services provided by the military back then. Like the OP’s acquaintance they all seemed to be broke, mostly having spent the money during their service I think. There was a clear division among these guys, the ones who went to school on the GI bill turned out OK, at least for the short term, while the rest were doing a lot of drugs and chronically unemployed or underemployed.

As for the long term, one guy I met about 15 years ago went a little crazy on July 4th about 8 years ago from the sound of fireworks. He had exhibited PTSD symptoms before but they became increasingly more problematic and before long lost his job after threatening his boss, and it was a good job too as a high level manager for a large manufacturer. He passed away just over a year ago from complications following cancer surgery but those last years of his life were awful. He had been over there early on, going in 1964 and returning in 1968 to a world he didn’t recognize anymore. He had been getting counseling at the VA but the feeling that he had been badly used by his country intensified and he had no way to deal with it.

The Marines didn’t provide anything for soldiers–that was the Army’s job.

I’m not sure if I’m remembering correctly but I think there was a study done of those who fought in the Falklands War. Apparently those who sailed home coped much better and were much less likely to suffer PTSD than those who flew home.

Prior to my Release from Active Duty (Marine Corps 1971) I was asked to reenlist. Upon release I received my GI benifits for college and took advantage of some VA medical benefits. I appreciated both and expected no more.

Isn’t it a DD-214?

I was too late for Vietnam. Thankfully. My years were 1980-1993. But the OP’s scenario sounds very plausible. Oh and I was fortunate to have never been in combat.

I think it is a sad state of affairs to conclude that, once you put on the uniform, your life is essentially disposable…even after you’re discharged.


The difference is cultures is interesting. Being a military brat, from a different culture and military-Pakistan, what’s described above seems strange. Over there if a soldier was being discharged, his platoon if Other Rank, Company for NCO was expected at the very least to give him a goodbye lunch or dinner, along with small gifts, besides just issuing his parting papers and benefits.
Units returning from active operations were sequestered at transit camps for several weeks before returning home…

TLDR - Things have changed quite a bit since the US pulled out of Vietnam in 1973.

Since that was included in the OP it’s still kind of on topic. Buckle up. All of this is from my US Army perspective. Big chunks of it are driven by DOD level policy or federal law but differences can still apply between services.

Vietnam was a long time ago and big chunks of the military were draftees who served as individual replacements rotating in and out of units deployed forward. PTSD hadn’t even been introduced as a recognized mental disorder yet. It was first recognized in DSM-III in 1980. For most draftees who served in Vietnam, redeployment was so close to their separation that the issues were likely to be comingled. We’re now a volunteer force. There’s quite a bit less comingling of reintegration after deployment and separation. The dominant model is now rotating units in and out as organizations. We’ve got a couple decades of research focus on PTSD to guide policy.

Something like what you described is pretty routine for a farewell IME. It was less formal in my non-mobilized Guard time simply because of time constraints. My Reserve time was all in a combined Active Component/Reserve Component (AC/RC) organization. Most of that was mobilized here in CONUS. Soldiers departing the unit got a lot more focus, especially on the mobilized side of the house, where time was less of an issue and the AC Brigade Commander and Command Sergeant Major worked a couple buildings away. Even our non-mobilized troops got more attention than my Guard experience because of that extra AC focus. What you described isn’t a different military culture. It’s US Army culture without the conditions of a draft and individual rotations interfering.

There’s also a lot more time and effort put into those transitioning out of the Army now than the thread might lead you to believe. It’s important to note that coming off active duty is not the end of the military commitment for most who only serve one term. It’s the end of their active duty commitment with most still having a reserve component obligation. That creates a mixed category that I’ll ignore aside from this mention.

Here’s the process as laid out for Soldiers assigned to Fort Riley. The first step is the Soldier For Life - Transition Assitance Program workshop to help those coming up on separation prepare for the civilian job market. A broad overview of SFL-TAP is here. It’s required to complete that 12 months before separation date. It’s preferred that it’s done by 18 months prior or 24 months prior for those retiring. A lot of civilians with relatively limited job search experience could benefit from a good chunk of those workshops IME. The parts they wouldn’t benefit from are skewed heavily towards the military specific resources available to assist throughout and after the transition.

There’s a number of post-separation benefits, services, and support resources available. Some that haven’t been mentioned are the VA’s Home Loan Program, veteran hiring preferences for federal and some state jobs, and priority service at state employment agencies. There are also a multitude of small programs. An example is something like Troops to Teachers that helps some meet state requirements and become teachers. A broad tool to access both information and get other services (like non-medical counseling services) outside the VA model is Military One Source. Access to Military One Source used to continue for 180 days after separation. In the last few weeks it was extended to 365 days. Our two large private veterans organizations, The American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars, can also be valuable resources in helping navigate the chaos of the small programs and bureaucracy of the VA. There’s also some indirect support. DOD markets the advantage of veterans to civilian employers. There have also been successful efforts to encourage public universities to reduce their costs for veterans using the GI Bill thus increasing it’s value to the troop using it.

There was also quite a bit of discovery learning and change to reintegration after deployments as we struggled through periods of high deployments. I’m most aware of the RC side of the house because of my experience. Maybe Bear_Nenno will wander in for the AC side of the house. In many ways, the AC has fewer challenges since their troops are still together near peers and support services.

For Guard and Reserve troops that are more dispersed, Congress legislated and DOD implemented the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Programin 2008. While the focus was on improving post-deployment reintegration that affected pre-deployment and deployment tasks. The program started early and went after the troops were back to living at home and serving one weekend a month. Along with some of those mandatory reintegration tasks it involved optional support services like making available free relationship retreats. Some states in the National Guard included complementary programs to support their troops. Congress has since made Yellow Ribbon a permanent requirement.

As the years went by time at the demobilization stationalso increased. Early in the Global War on Terror outprocessing for demobilizing RC troops was very busy and task oriented. A couple of chaotic days of waiting in long lines to frantically check all the boxes on the checklist and you were home still a bit jet lagged. From personal experience, it sucked. Attention was given to slowing the schedule to try and let troops catch a breath, actually receive the information, and spend some time with their brother and sister warriors decompressing. Attention was given to quality of the processing and not just throughput. ISTR funding for some unit recreational activities coming into the mix too but my duties were on the mobilization side of activities by that point in my career. In FY 2014 they started requiring the full multi-day SFL-TAP workshop for all RC troops without a civilian job to go back to. (Obviously the 12 month requirement didn’t work for RC troops on one year mobilization orders.) Even those with a job got expanded briefings versus the older requirement. The availability and quality of information on the web resources given for follow up was consistently being improved IME.

There wasn’t a clean spot to put in the Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness program. It’s not reintegration or separation specific. It’s a program to try and improve psychological resilience during service. I’ll just leave a link since I’ve probably already lost most readers due to length.

I first held up my right hand in 1988. I spent a lot of my earlier time in uniform around Vietnam veterans (and one Korean War veteran.) Their personal postdeployment reintegration and military separation stories frequently were as horrible as those so far in the thread. My old Platoon Sergeant could easily have been a suicide by cop statistic from his own description of an incident not long after separation. A small town cop who’d known him since he was a kid took a big personal risk in saving him. It’s not 1973. There was still lots of room for improvement as I retired in 2015. Not all attempts to address the issues have worked. Things had changed and were continuing to change for the better IMO as I hung up my spurs.

I hope you mean DD-214. The 213 form is not the one you want to get:

If you were (un)lucky enough to become disabled, even partially, during your military service, the VA will give you full medical coverage for the rest of your life.

What are you wearing? I know that in WWI Aus soldiers were not permitted to have civilian clothes, and at discharge were issued civilian clothes. Do modern soldiers just walk out in uniform? Do they even have to take off some insignia?

My father served in the army during the Korean War, but spend the entire time in Yuma Az as a typist. He got washed out of electronics because he was color blind.

He was given his discharge papers and transportation back to Utah. He was still in uniform so he had to show the papers to the MPs looking for deserters.

Yeah, typo.

There were plenty of soldiers in uniform walking around Oceanside at that time. After walking out the gate, he probably just went into a clothing store and bought some new civilian clothes. Knowing him, he just left his uniform on the floor and never looked back.