Taliban fighters stand guard at the main gate leading to the Afghan presidential palace in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Aug. 16, 2021. (Rahmat Gul/AP)
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.
Information on State Department plans has been difficult to navigate for some individuals trapped by the Taliban advance in Afghanistan.
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.