GI Junkies: The Forgotten Veterans is a powerful documentary which gives an insight into the struggle that Vietnam veterans faced when returning from active duty. Richard Kotuk’s film was released in 1976 and shines a light on the crisis of addiction to drugs amongst US vets, which was heavily exacerbated by the lack of support they received after coming home.
In 1971, when the Vietnam War was at its height, a research project commissioned by President Nixon discovered that thousands of US troops had become addicted to heroin due to the trauma of war and access to cheap drugs. This sparked intense fear among government officials that there would be an influx of returning addicts who could potentially overwhelm drug treatment services and cause a crime wave. However, this anxiety turned out to be unfounded as their studies revealed that 14,000 soldiers who had nearly finished their tours were not in fact addicted.
Despite these findings, many veterans still returned home with little support or recognition for their service and those who did suffer from drug addiction were even stripped of their benefits such as health care and education. GI Junkies: The Forgotten Veterans provides an essential viewpoint on this issue; it interviews former vets about their experiences and reflects on how little progress has been made since then in terms of providing adequate help for veterans who are struggling with addiction.
While this documentary is now almost 45 years old, it still provides important perspective on how war can have long-term effects on people’s mental health and wellbeing. It is also an opportunity to honour those whose stories are told in the film – something few films have ever done before or since. If you are passionate about social justice issues or just want to know more about this forgotten side of history then GI Junkies: The Forgotten Veterans is a must watch.