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Canadian Vietnam vets fight for benefits

Vietnam may have been America's war but Canada was heavily involved — for and against. Canada harboured American draft dodgers and helped supervise ceasefires. But at the same time, about 30,000 Canadians volunteered to fight in southeast Asia. And there was Canada's involvement in secret missions, weapons testing and arms production. CBC Archives looks at Canada's role in the Vietnam War.

When approximately 30,000 Canadians enlisted in the U.S. armed forces to serve in Vietnam, they were welcomed, treated like U.S. recruits, even given a U.S. social security number. Upon their return, however, they received none of the benefits that their fellow American soldiers did. While Canadian Vietnam vets suffer the same after-effects as American vets -- often worse due to increased isolation and feelings of invisibility -- the United States offers them nothing more than a plane ride home. CBC's Wendy Johnson reports on Canadian vets seeking their due. 
• After the war, Canadian Vietnam veterans were angry and frustrated by the lack of support from the U.S. government. While American vets had access to treatment centres, the benefits Canadians had been told they would receive were not made available.
• The emotional damage experienced by Vietnam vets ranges from insomnia and flashbacks to survival guilt and post-traumatic stress disorder.

• Canadian vets began to band together in local associations for support and to lobby for their due.
• The Canadian Vietnam Veterans Association was formed in 1986.
• In 1988 the Reagan administration passed a bill authorizing Canadian Vietnam veterans to receive medical treatment in Canada.

• In Canada, Vietnam vets felt invisible. They were not initially recognized by the Canadian Legion as they were not veterans of a war in which Canada was involved. On Oct. 1, 1994, the Canadian Legion extended full membership privileges to Vietnam vets.
• One psychiatric study found that the isolation and invisibility felt by Canadian veterans of the Vietnam war was more damaging than the hatred many Americans vets faced.

• Veterans had a difficult time finding a place to erect a memorial to their involvement in the war. The National Capital Commission declined to find a spot for a monument in Ottawa as their policy states that memorials on federal land are restricted to groups that "have been active in Canada or on behalf of the nation."
• In 1989 the first Canadian Vietnam veterans memorial was erected in Côte Sainte-Catherine, Que., by members of the Canadian Vietnam Veterans of Quebec. In 1994 this memorial was moved to a new site in Melocheville, Que.

• In July 1995 a memorial commemorating the 103 known Canadian casualties was erected in Windsor, Ont.
• Known as "The North Wall", it was designed, built and donated by a group called the Michigan Association of Concerned Veterans who wished to honour Canadians' contributions to the war.
• Windsor city council inscribed a disclaimer on the memorial reading "This memorial was placed here to commemorate Canadians who died in the Vietnam tragedy. It is not intended as a political statement concerning the merits of this or any other foreign conflict."
Medium: Television
Program: 1st Edition
Broadcast Date: June 18, 1986
Guests: Bob Beatty, Rick Hazelwood
Reporter: Wendy Johnson
Duration: 5:30

Last updated: October 4, 2013

Page consulted on December 6, 2013

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