Advocates are reminding veterans that help is available if headlines about the disastrous end of the U.S mission in Afghanistan and the looming Sept. 11 anniversary are triggering anxiety and mental health issues.
“Veterans should be on the lookout for red flags if news of Afghanistan starts changing behavior,” Dr. Sonya Norman, director of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ PTSD Consultation Program, said in a statement late last week. “These include isolating, using alcohol and drugs or any increase in unhealthy behaviors compared to normal.”
Even before the collapse of the Afghan government over the weekend, VA officials had been preparing for increased requests for mental health care and trauma assistance amid the ongoing U.S. military withdrawal from the country.
Health officials said they have already seen an uptick in the number of veterans seeking help, and expected even more demand “as [veterans] come to terms with their service and as the Afghanistan withdrawal comes to completion.”
About 1.9 million post-9/11 veterans are currently enrolled in health care with the department. A 2014 study by department officials found that nearly 16 percent of all veterans who deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan screened positive for post-traumatic stress.
Both VA and Defense Department officials in recent years have worked to eliminate the stigmas surrounding mental health care, noting that PTSD and related issues can be handled if individuals acknowledge they are facing personal difficulties.
The department has been running a series on mental health issues on its official blog, including a feature on lessons learned from the aftermath of the Vietnam War for veterans struggling with unresolved medical issues.
The Veteran Crisis Line is also available around-the-clock at 1-800-273-8255 (veterans should select option 1 for a VA staffer.) Veterans, troops or their family members can also text 838255 or visit VeteransCrisisLine.net for assistance.
Numerous lawmakers and congressional committees shared the crisis line number on social media on Monday, thanking veterans for their service and letting them know help is available.
Veterans service organizations are also stepping up their outreach efforts in light of the unsettling news overseas.
In a statement Monday, officials from Wounded Warrior Project noted that “developments in Afghanistan may bring back difficult memories for warriors and their families.” The group urged anyone needing assistance to contact their counselors at 888-997-2586 or through the organization’s web site.
Officials from Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America said veterans who served in the recent wars should remember that their service “was important and mattered.” The organization’s Quick Reaction Force for help is available online and at 855-917-2743.
In a statement, VA Secretary Denis McDonough said that all Americans should remember the debt owed to veterans for their service.
“They made our world infinitely safer,” he 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.”
Leo covers Congress, Veterans Affairs and the White House for Military Times. He has covered Washington, D.C. since 2004, focusing on military personnel and veterans policies. His work has earned numerous honors, including a 2009 Polk award, a 2010 National Headliner Award, the IAVA Leadership in Journalism award and the VFW News Media award.