Airman 1st Class Taylor Davis, 455th Air Expeditionary Wing Honor Guard member, folds a flag during a retreat ceremony Aug. 15, 2016, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Justyn M. Freeman.
As Afghanistan unraveled and the Taliban took control over the weekend, hundreds of thousands of veterans who served in the country experienced a wave of emotions ranging from anger and betrayal to unfathomable grief for the friends left behind in a war-torn nation. The Department of Veterans Affairs is reminding veterans to check on each other and seek help if the news of Afghanistan’s collapse is sparking anxiety or other mental health issues.
“Reactions aren’t always what people think they are going to be, and that’s okay,” Dr. Jennifer Vasterling, chief of psychology at the VA Boston Healthcare System, said in a statement.
While feelings of sadness and confusion are normal, mental health experts encourage veterans to talk to their friends, family, and battle buddies. Veterans and their loved ones should watch for red flags like isolating, using alcohol or drugs, or any abnormal increase in unhealthy coping mechanisms like excess work or even video games.
The VA anticipated a potential increase in mental health requests amid the Afghanistan withdrawal and launched a four-part series about Afghanistan veterans and how they can get help earlier this month. Health facilities were also already seeing an increase in veterans seeking help before Afghanistan fell to the Taliban over the weekend, according to the VA. Officials expect demand to rise even more as the withdrawal comes to completion. They released a list of resources for veterans needing to talk it out.
Other nonprofits and advocate groups are also urging veterans to reach out during this troubling time. The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said Monday that the weekend’s events are “weighing heavy on many veterans” and called on struggling veterans — or anyone who knows of a veteran struggling to cope with the news — to contact the organization’s Quick Reaction Force at 855-917-2743.
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Many prominent veterans are sharing their experiences in Afghanistan and thoughts on the withdrawal on social media, prompting discussion and words of support.
VA Secretary Denis McDonough also expressed support for troops past and present through a statement.
“Our nation is indebted to the men and women who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, because they made our world infinitely safer,” McDonough said. “Their service did not come without sacrifice as some carry physical and emotional wounds. We must ensure they get the world-class care they’ve earned and deserve.”
Hannah Ray Lambert is a former staff writer for Coffee or Die who previously covered everything from murder trials to high school trap shooting teams. She spent several months getting tear gassed during the 2020-2021 civil unrest in Portland, Oregon. When she’s not working, Hannah enjoys hiking, reading, and talking about authors and books on her podcast Between Lewis and Lovecraft.
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