I spent the day reaching out to Hoosier veterans who fought the twenty-year-long war in Afghanistan to ask them what they thought now that the Taliban has taken over the country this past week without a fight.
“Intense feelings of grief and anxiety, disgust, all of that leading to anger,” said Doug Johnson who retired from the U.S. Army Reserve as a colonel after serving as a Civil Affairs officer with the 3rd Special Forces Group during the early days of the war in 2003, “and I think that’s okay right now because on the backside of this I’ll allow myself to think through those feelings and put myself in a healthy place.”
William Henry was an Indiana National Guardsman in Afghanistan in 2009 and 2010 assigned to Public Affairs and watched as the U.S. military tried to explain to the Afghan people what it was like to set up a central government and local civic institutions in a remote mountainous country full of tribal villages far away from Kabul.
“To try to convince them that, ‘Hey, this is the way you should try to do things,’ when they’re used to doing things another way was a little bit difficult for us to convey that kind of message how to govern and how to build the rule of law in the country overall.”
Both old soldiers lament the Afghani civilians left behind who believed in the American mission to bring their country into the modern world.
“We own some of this,” said Johnson while reflecting on the failure of the Afghan government and its military to stand up to the Taliban in the last days. “I am here today because Afghans, either interpreters or soldiers, put their lives on the line for me, on more than one occasion saved my life, and we owe it back to those people that we can evacuate and take care of them.”
Henry said the disappointment in the fall of Afghanistan and the memory of the American blood and treasure that was spent there is tempered by the return of U.S. service personnel back home.
“Job well done, mission well done, you have done a great job, there’s nothing to be ashamed of, there’s nothing to be upset about,” said Henry. “For an end like this to happen, it is devastating for the individuals who were over there, and maybe it seems bleak or maybe it seems really negative right now, but the work you did over there did make an influence and you did do a good job and people need to know that.”
One veteran I was in touch with reached out to another former soldier to see if he would be interested in talking.
“He just found out his interpreter was beheaded in front of his family two days ago. Said he is pretty torn up about it and was in no shape to talk,” my friend texted back. I understood.
For military veterans who may be struggling with the news coming out of Afghanistan this week, the Veterans Administration has many services and hotlines available for consultation.
Resources available right now
- Veterans Crisis Line – If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-8255, then PRESS 1 or visit http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/
- For emergency mental health care, you can also go directly to your local VA medical center 24/7 regardless of your discharge status or enrollment in other VA health care.
- Vet Centers – Discuss how you feel with other Veterans in these community-based counseling centers. 70% of Vet Center staff are Veterans. Call 1-877-927-8387 or find one near you.
- VA Mental Health Services Guide – This guide will help you sign up and access mental health services.
- MakeTheConnection.net – information, resources, and Veteran to Veteran videos for challenging life events and experiences with mental health issues.
- RallyPoint – Talk to other Veterans online. Discuss: What are your feelings as the Taliban reclaim Afghanistan after 20 years of US involvement?
- Download VA’s self-help apps – Tools to help deal with common reactions like, stress, sadness, and anxiety. You can also track your symptoms over time.
- Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) – Request a Peer Mentor
- VA Women Veterans Call Center – Call or text 1-855-829-6636 (M-F 8AM – 10PM & SAT 8AM – 6:30PM ET)
- VA Caregiver Support Line – Call 1-855-260-3274 (M-F 8AM – 10PM & SAT 8AM – 5PM ET)
- Together We Served –Find your battle buddies through unit pages
- George W. Bush Institute – Need help or want to talk? Check In or call:1-630-522-4904 or email: email@example.com
- Elizabeth Dole Foundation Hidden Heroes – Join the Community
- American Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network – Peer Support and Mentoring
- Team Red, White & Blue – Hundreds of events weekly. Find a chapter in your area.
- Student Veterans of America – Find a campus chapter to connect with.
- Team Rubicon – Find a local support squad.