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After Taliban Takeover, Afghanistan Veteran Mental Health Becomes a Concern

By Rachel Saurer
Published: Aug. 30, 2021 at 10:01 PM CDT
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CHEYENNE, Wyo. (Wyoming News Now) - The war in Afghanistan is said to be over, but for veterans, the battle for mental health continues. Since the Taliban’s lightning-quick takeover in Afghanistan, the Cheyenne Veteran Affairs has seen an increase in crisis line calls and Wyoming even saw 1 suicide related to the upheaval in the Middle East.

Linda Benson, Cheyenne VA’s suicide prevention coordinator, said that strong emotions related to the takeover, veterans believing that their time spent in Afghanistan had all been in vain, concern over allies and interpreters who they considered their brothers are still over there and the return of PTSD are all reasons for this uptick in crisis calls and suicidal thoughts. In fact, many veterans have reported that coverage of the takeover in Afghanistan has caused triggers of the horrors they faced while deployed.

“I’m a mother of a combat veteran,” Benson said. “And he called me the morning after the media started to evolve and he said ‘good morning, I didn’t sleep last night. I shouldn’t have watched the news. I stayed up all night and was reliving experiences from my deployment.’ That is happening to many veterans.”

Sam House, a local Afghanistan vet living in Cheyenne, said that constant communication with his interpreter to find out if he was okay or alive brought a lot of those horrifying memories back.

One of the reasons veterans are experiencing these emotions stem from the feeling that the...
One of the reasons veterans are experiencing these emotions stem from the feeling that the United States abandoned their allies in Afghanistan. And not only their allies, but the brothers of those who were deployed over there.(Rachel Saurer)

“It’s embarrassing not being able to sleep,” House said. “To check my phone all the time to see if my interpreter has gotten a call from the State Department or if he’s still alive or, just those simple nudges -- signs of life -- over there... but a lot of that is coming back.”

But, it’s not only the PTSD for some of these veterans. For House, who was deployed from 2007 to 2008, he said that he felt like the United States has gone back on a promise it made to its allies in Afghanistan.

“I remember talking with my counterpart,” House said. “And... he basically said ‘You know what? You’re going to leave us too. We’re just waiting. You guys are going to leave us too. Everybody’s left us throughout history. People like to come in and they like to try and make things better for us, but then they leave.’ And I looked him square in the eye and I said ‘no’.”

House said that this conversation has continued to gnaw at him since the takeover.

“It’s one thing for other people to lie to me,” he said. “But, when I’m put into a position where lied to the people that I trusted... people that would’ve thrown themselves in front of a bullet for me... they would’ve sacrificed everything for me... we had that good of a relationship. These were our brothers that we served with. That just had different names.”

The country being taken over so quickly -- that, House said, was a difficult pill to swallow.

“I’ve got pictures of me with children,” he said. “Children who are now in their teens and possibly in their 20s, who remember what we provided. We provided them hope. And all of that hope just went away in a matter of days.”

These memories and what happened over there are not going to go away. So, Benson encouraged Afghanistan veterans to continue to participate in activities that they enjoy, reach out to combat buddies who understand what they’re going through, or even seek out chaplains and mental health experts at the Cheyenne VA.

“We urge people to continue to engage in positive activities even if they don’t feel like it,” Benson said. “Because it’s easy to dwell on tragedy and overthink tragedy that just leave us feeling poorly and not coping very well.”

Benson also said that it may also help to see the positive in what they accomplished in Afghanistan in those 20 years.

“I wanted to share a story that shows a different perspective that helped one of our [Afghanistan] veterans,” Benson said. “He shares the words of an Afghani man... ‘Alleviating suffering is never in vain. Even if the final outcome isn’t permanent.’ He went on to describe several instances of individuals and families that he personally knew who had come from Afghanistan in the last 20 years... and were able to make a better life for themselves and their families with the assistance and presence of the United States in Afghanistan.”

The Cheyenne VA is always ready to offer assistance to veterans if the need arises. Additional supports come from the veterans crisis line: 800-273-8255.

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