Cablegate: Arvn Veterans Today

DE RUEHHM #0472/01 1330915
R 120915Z MAY 08




E.O. 12958: N/A


HO CHI MIN 00000472 001.2 OF 004

1. (U) Summary: The day to day differences between the lives
of veterans of the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN) and
other Vietnamese citizens are slight in most of Vietnam today.
An atmosphere of latent mistrust and lingering hostility still
exists in some poorer areas. Geography and economic development
appear to be the most important variables in explaining the
differences in treatment of ARVN veterans -- the more economic
transformation and growth a community has experienced, the less
its local authorities seem to worry about former soldiers of
"the old regime." In the rapidly developing urban areas of
Vietnam, ARVN veterans experience little or no discrimination.
In contrast, veterans in central Vietnam and more isolated parts
of the Mekong Delta where poverty is prevalent often face
discrimination from hostile and uncooperative local officials.
The most commonly cited problem among ARVN veterans is
difficulty in obtaining civil documents. ARVN veterans also
complain that "revolutionary families," including those of North
Vietnam Army (NVA) and Viet Cong (VC) veterans, enjoy benefits
not available to others. For the last twenty years, the ARVN
veteran experience has roughly paralleled that of most other
southerners; those with more education and more economic
resources, including help from relatives overseas, have done
better. End summary.

2. (SBU) Over the last two years, case workers in the
Humanitarian Resettlement Section (HRS) have interviewed roughly
two thousand former re-education camp inmates applying for
Humanitarian Resettlement (HR) to the U.S. under the "HO"
category. Most of those interviewed have been ARVN veterans and
most of the information in this cable is drawn from those
interviews. Geographically, those interviewed come from all
over the southern half of Vietnam. Middle-ranking veterans --
NCOs, warrant officers, lieutenants, and captains -- are
probably over-represented in this group because few enlisted
soldiers were re-educated long enough to qualify for HO and few
higher ranking veterans remain in Vietnam. Nonetheless, those
interviewed do include a large number of former enlisted
soldiers and a very small number who ranked from major to
colonel. Those interviewed also include a large number of
former police officers, but few ex-civil servants.

What has life been like for ARVN vets?
3. (U) After the Communist victory in 1975, the new government
instructed ARVN veterans (among many others) to report for
re-education. Some received rather perfunctory terms, while
others served many years. Typically after release from
re-education camp, veterans were directed to return home and
report to local police for probation. Many were moved with
their families to New Economic Zones (NEZs) where they completed
their probation. Probation could last several years, but in
most cases it was twelve months, after which veterans were able
to have their civil rights restored. This process sometimes
took several more years. With restoration of civil rights,
veterans were able to apply for identity cards and obtain family
registration books. With these documents, they could obtain
essentially the same services as any other Vietnamese citizen.
In practice, it often took ARVN veterans considerably longer to
obtain the documents, especially the family registration books.
Many veterans were reluctant to make repeat visits to government
offices to ask for documents or certification of papers, as this
exposed them to reminders that authorities considered them to be

4. (U) Frequently, attempts to obtain identification documents
were fruitless. There are still a few ARVN veterans who have
not received either document, which leaves them with limited
livelihood options in the informal sector such as day laborer,
motorcycle taxi driver, lottery ticket seller and small-scale
vendor. Persons without ID cards cannot open bank accounts, or
obtain government-subsidized health care and other routine
public services. In contrast to ID cards, drivers' licenses are
easily available through payment of bribes, but a driver's
license is no substitute for an ID card.

5. (U) A larger set of veterans encounter difficulties
obtaining family books. Issued by local authorities, family
registration books are used to determine legal residence in
Vietnam. When one moves from one part of Vietnam to another,
one is supposed to obtain a new family book. Some ARVN veterans
have given up trying to obtain their own book and have had their
families registered in a relative's book. Lack of a family book
makes it challenging to obtain services provided by local
authorities. If one does not have a family book registered
where one actually lives, it is difficult, among other things,
to enroll one's children in local schools.

6. (SBU) Veterans reported that life in the NEZs tended to be
harsher than elsewhere because NEZs were undeveloped, frequently

HO CHI MIN 00000472 002.2 OF 004

on land of marginal quality, and because local officials often
imposed heavy labor requirements on those they deemed in need of
more "reform through labor." Although conditions generally
became better over time, many NEZ residents left in the late
1980's through early 1990's in search of economic and
educational opportunities and also to cut ties with their
problematic pasts. Even veterans who were not sent to NEZs
still left their homes to move to HCMC in an attempt to get away
from local officials who held their pasts over their heads.
About half of ARVN veterans interviewed for HR still lived in
their pre-1975 communities. A handful moved to a different
rural area, usually in the Central Highlands. The rest have
either stayed in an NEZ or moved to a city.

What kinds of discrimination were there?
7. (SBU) Most ARVN veterans who reported blatant discrimination
in the 1980s said that this faded to almost nothing by the
mid-1990s. Few of them provide HRS interviewers details about
the problems they faced in the past. Unless they could obtain
civil documents, they were unable to work in the formal sector
of the economy or to have land. The lack of civil documents
also hampered access to education and health care. Community
pressure, a tool that local authorities routinely mobilized in
the past, made ARVN veterans social outcasts while venerating
NVA and VC. These pressures led many with the means to do so to
move to the city. Those who could not often withdrew from
society and became dependent on their children.

8. (U) It has often been reported that the children of ARVN
veterans face discrimination too, but it is clearer that poverty
has been their main problem. Their parents' status probably
exacerbated that poverty through the 1980s, in part because the
lack of civil documents made access to health care and education
more problematic, but veterans themselves seldom report that
they are or were significantly poorer then their non-veteran
neighbors. It was very common for their children to have
dropped out of school after two or three years, but when asked
why, they report that it was because the children were needed to
work and that the family could not afford to send them to
school. Their non-veteran neighbors routinely had to make the
same sacrifice. Veterans with more economic resources -- often
relatives overseas -- could afford to keep their children in
school through 12th grade. It is common for ARVN veterans and
others to allege that their children have been unable to attend
college because of "family background." Given the extreme
competition for the few available college admissions slots in
Vietnam, it is plausible that an ARVN family background is a
negative factor, but it is difficult to determine whether it is
decisive by itself.

9. (U) While relatively few senior ARVN officers remained in
Vietnam after 1975, conversations with them and their children
serve to illuminate how discrimination against the children of
ARVN officers could flow from the policies described above.
Because parents must present family registration documents when
enrolling their children in public schools, for example,
children of ARVN veterans faced additional challenges when
attending school. The lack of family registration documents
could lead to similar complications in obtaining health care.
In practice, denials of access to education and health care
appear to have varied by region as well as on a case-by-case
basis and could be circumvented if a veteran's children could be
added to the family registration book of a less disfavored
relative. For those families who decided to return to the city
rather than remain in one of the NEZ's, access to social
services became doubly difficult since the family had no legal
status in the city. Once again, however, ordinary Vietnamese,
and even VC and NVA veterans, who fled Vietnam's economic
backwaters for its growing cities faced and continue to face
these problems as well. Whatever discrimination there was
against ARVN veterans and their families gradually declined over
time to the point where at least one son of an ARVN officer who
was effectively denied schooling as a child in the late 1970's
was nonetheless able to be hired as a teacher in the 1990's
before going on to build a multi-million dollar business empire
(ref A).

10. (SBU) ARVN veterans themselves have seldom found government
employment, unless they supported the revolution before 1975 or
had skills such as medical doctor or helicopter mechanic that
were in short supply after 1975. Employment in sensitive
positions and advancement to senior levels in routine government
positions and in State-Owned Enterprises has only been open to
Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) members. Only the former set
of ARVN veterans have been able to join the CPV. The
prohibition on CPV membership seems to hold true for the
children of ARVN veterans as well. However, veterans and their
children with some combination of financial resources, family
overseas, and enterprise have been able to do well in the

HO CHI MIN 00000472 003.2 OF 004

private sector, especially since 1994. The growth of the
private sector and the rise of private universities have made
discrimination in state employment and university entrance less
significant. Post's own employees, including a sprinkling of
ARVN veterans and many children of ARVN veterans, are another
example; they are doing far better working for the USG than they
likely would for their own government. Some ARVN veterans have
become millionaires (reftels). At least one HR applicant ARVN
veteran has too. He asked his interviewer for advice on moving
his multi-million dollar fortune to the United States.

What kind of discrimination is there now?
11. (U) Perhaps the starkest differences in treatment ARVN
veterans see is in how they fare compared to VC and NVA
veterans. The latter are considered to belong to "revolutionary
families" that are given many preferences by the GVN. With an
officially revered status, disabled revolutionary veterans
receive an array of official and semi-official support and
recognition. Aside from the privately-funded Tu Duc village in
Ho Chi Minh City, there are no known special social services
available to disabled ARVN veterans, and public recognition of
their losses and sacrifices seems to be considered too sensitive
to permit. The large majority of disabled ARVN veterans are
dependent solely on their families for support. ARVN veterans
often say they find it particularly galling that they get no
government assistance because of their disabilities, while
revolutionary veterans do. Similarly, the numerous social
activities for revolutionary veterans simply do not exist for
ARVN veterans. Many ARVN veterans are comfortable getting
together and quietly reminiscing, but these are very low key
events compared to the boisterous song (and drink)-filled
reunions of their erstwhile opponents. While revolutionary
veterans are prominently featured in public and the media on
national holidays, there is virtually no official public
recognition that ARVN veterans exist.

12. (SBU) The majority of ARVN veterans interviewed in the last
two years report little if any overt discrimination since the
mid-1990s when compared to the general population. As long as
they do not do anything "foolish," authorities treat them the
same as other citizens. However, an identifiable minority still
reports that local authorities discriminate against them. Most
of this segment lives in the central provinces stretching from
Quang Ngai north through Quang Tri; others are from economic
backwaters of the Mekong Delta. Discrimination tends to be
especially strong in old VC strongholds and former NEZs. They
can still face a gauntlet of unpleasant treatment when gathering
the documents for Humanitarian Resettlement. It appears that
local officials in these places still regard ARVN veterans as
traitors or potential traitors, particularly when they apply for
Humanitarian Resettlement. Two common features of these rural
localities are that they have enjoyed little economic
development and that local security officials have little to do.
By contrast, police and local officials in the cities and other
economically vibrant areas are so busy that they either are
scarcely aware of ARVN veterans as such, or they do not seem to
consider ARVN veterans to be of much interest. Veterans who
could afford to do so have moved away from repressive localities
to places offering more economic opportunity and more anonymity.
Those remaining, aside from being poor, find it difficult to
blend in and escape the notice of security officials who may
have been on the other side of the battlefield during the war.

Other factors
13. (U) The consequences of past discrimination coupled with
the difficult circumstances faced by the general population in
the 1980s and early 1990s bear on the present situation of ARVN
veterans. Hardships abounded in Vietnam only a few years ago
and impacted most people in most places, not just ARVN veterans.
Dropping out of school for economic reasons was and still is a
widespread problem, especially in rural areas where families
need their children to work to support the family. Among the
ranks of ARVN veterans, enlisted soldiers and NCOs tended to be
poor and so their children often had only two or three years of
school. Officers' families tended to be wealthier, so their
children usually completed high school. The lack of past
education limits current economic opportunities much more
clearly than family background.

14. (SBU) ARVN veterans often say there is a widespread bias
against them and their children in job placement, hiring, and
access to economic opportunities and favors. If one probes the
question more deeply, they usually attribute their troubles to
their lack of ties to influential individuals with access to
good jobs and powerful people, rather than their ARVN service or
family background. Other southerners, from ordinary citizens to
members of "revolutionary families," commonly voice a similar
complaint, namely that there is favoritism towards those who

HO CHI MIN 00000472 004.2 OF 004

have relationships with "decision makers," in other words,

15. (U) This cable was coordinated with Embassy Hanoi.

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