Veterans who served in Afghanistan may be experiencing a range of challenging emotions related to the U.S withdrawal from the country and the events unfolding now. Veterans who served during other conflicts may also be feeling strong emotions as they may be reminded of their own deployment experiences.

Common Reactions

Veterans may experience the following reactions related to the current events in Afghanistan:

  • Feeling frustrated, sad, helpless, distressed (including moral distress), angry, or betrayed
  • Worrying about Afghans who worked with the U.S. military, like interpreters
  • Experiencing an increase in mental health symptoms like symptoms of PTSD or depression
  • Sleeping poorly, drinking more or using more drugs
  • Trying to avoid all reminders or media or shy away from social situations
  • Having more military and homecoming memories
  • Questioning the meaning of their service or whether it was worth the sacrifices they made

Veterans also may feel like they need to expect and/or prepare for the worst and may:

  • Become overly protective, vigilant, and guarded
  • Become preoccupied by danger
  • Feel a need to avoid being shocked by, or unprepared for, what may happen in the future

Feeling distress is a normal reaction to negative events, especially ones that feel personal. It can be helpful to let yourself experience those feelings rather than try to avoid them. Often these feelings will naturally run their course. If they continue without easing up or if you feel overwhelmed by them, the suggestions below can be helpful.

Strategies for Managing Ongoing Distress

At this moment, it may seem like all is lost, or like your service or your sacrifices were for nothing. Consider the ways that your service made a difference, the impact it had on others’ lives or on your own life. Remember that now is just one moment in time and that things will continue to change.

It can be helpful to focus on the present and to engage in the activities that are most meaningful and valuable to you. Is there something you can do today that is important to you?  This can be as an individual, a family member, a parent, or a community member. Is there something meaningful regarding your work or your spirituality that you can put additional energy into? These activities will not change the past or the things you can’t control, but they can help life feel meaningful and reduce distress, despite the things you cannot change.

It can also help to consider your thinking.  Ask yourself if your thoughts are helpful to you right now. Are there ways you can change your thinking to be more accurate and less distressing? For example, are you using extreme thinking where you see the situation as all bad or all good?  If so, try and think in less extreme terms.  Rather than thinking “my service in Afghanistan was useless” consider instead “I helped keep Afghanistan safe.”

Finally, consider more general coping strategies:

  • Engage in Positive, Healthy Activities that are rewarding, meaningful, or enjoyable, even if you don’t feel like it, as they can make you feel better.
  • Stay Connected by spending time with people who give you a sense of security, calm, or happiness, or those who best understand what you are going through.
  • Practice Good Self Care by engaging in activities such as listening to music, exercising, practicing breathing routines, spending time in nature or with animals, journaling, or reading inspirational text.
  • Stick to Your Routines and follow a schedule for when you sleep, eat, work, and do other day-to-day activities.
  • Limit Media Exposure especially if it’s increasing your distress.
  • Use a VA mobile app by visiting: https://mobile.va.gov/appstore/mental-health.
  • Try PTSD Coach Online, which is a series of online videos that will guide you through 17 tools to help you manage stress.

 

When to Consider Professional Help

If your distress is prolonged or you are unable to function well, consider seeking help. There are competent and caring professionals available who can help you with the most common responses such as depression, anxiety, PTSD, moral injury, and complicated grief.

Every VA facility has mental health specialists. Visit: https://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/get-help/local-care.asp to find a provider near you.

Talk about your reactions in community-based VA Vet Centers, where over 70% of staff are Veterans themselves. Call 1-800-WAR-VETS or find one near you.”

Or go to MakeTheConnection.net, an online resource designed to connect Veterans, their family members and friends, and other supporters with information, resources, and solutions to issues affecting their lives from challenging life events or experiences to mental health issues or challenges.

If you feel like you might hurt yourself or someone else, reach out now. The Veterans Crisis Line, online chat, and text-messaging service are free to all Veterans, even if you are not enrolled in VA health care. Confidential support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year through the Veterans Crisis Line (1-800-273-8255 and Press 1).

 

 

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10 Comments

  1. Tom September 2, 2021 at 3:34 pm

    Army Field Manual FM 90-29 Non Combatant Evacuation Operations was not followed or apparently even considered. Four Stars need to hand in their stars if involved in this and the others not involved need to speak up and be leaders! The stuff needs to roll uphill over this. Where is congress? Where is the press? Why are the Generals agreeing with the POTUS that this went well? I have not seen any protests even on TV . What’s worse than the horrific way the withdrawal has been handled is the way the American people have just sat down. Just take it and “seek help” if it bothers you. Disgraceful, deceitful, and not to be forgotten. Someone please get a 5 million veteran march on Washington going.

  2. Eric August 31, 2021 at 4:40 pm

    To be honest, I am angry, confused, sad, I am struggling to see how we left, and knowing there are people that gave it all for this outcome. I am sad that the lessons I learned as a Soldier were easily thrown away. Loyalty, Duty, Honor, Integrity. I have not seen any of these in the withdrawal. I see reckless abandon, and a meaningless photo-op of a general from the great 82nd ABN, how sad they took this moment in history for a photo-op. I feel disgraced.

  3. Ellsworth Downong August 31, 2021 at 3:17 pm

    I am a disabled Viet Vet and feel the pain of those who served and sacrificed in Afghanistan and I thank them for their service It brings to wonder whom will join if sent to die for future claimed causes that end as those two wars. Why did we not blow up the equipment that was left when we knew that they were surrendering. Why record history if we do not learn from it. Of Course the congress does not care. Pray for AMERICA and those serving in Uniform.

  4. Jason Gwell August 31, 2021 at 11:01 am

    The VA, a part of the government that betrayed military members by throwing away everything we fought and sacraficed for, now gives the advice to deal with their betrayal by listening to music, avoiding the news telling us about their betrayal and give them a call so they can help us with our “PTSD.” Any advice on a playlist, how about something patriotic, like “Born in the USA?”

    I do not need any more of your brainwashing therapy, mind-numbing drugs or pretend support. What I need is a US Government that doesn’t betray those who served them.

  5. Phillip August 31, 2021 at 12:03 am

    Today my war ended. Our war ended. I’m heartbroken. I’m angry. The way we are leaving things is disgraceful. The way we are leaving things is dishonoring to the thousands that have lost their lives in this cause and to the many more who have been injured, both physically and mentally. To those who have made so many sacrifices, both service members and their families. Gut wrenching.

  6. Doina Jeffery August 23, 2021 at 4:05 pm

    Sad what is happening. Many have lost their life and the situation was somewhat stabilized. Now we leave and leave the ones that helped us to be killed. SAD.

  7. Donna Ridolfino August 20, 2021 at 9:56 am

    Growing up in the Viet Nam era, and having lost a close family member during the fighting there, I experienced a deep sense of shame and disappointment with the way our government handled the troop withdraw at the time. yes, I was glad troops were coming home, but saddened by the human expense for seemingly no benefit. To me, it seems we are walking those same roads again. Did we not learn a lesson years ago, and do we have to abandon those who allied with us at this time? I don’t wish for any more loss of life, but I feel strong diplomacy could have brought about a more honorable withdrawal of troops.

  8. kenneth mason August 19, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    Let’s address the fact that it seems as if the hard-fought and heart-wrenching lessons we were exposed to (( No, we didn’t win those lessons. )) in Viet Nam were repeated in Afganistan. The huge number of Afghans who helped us were more or less disregarded and thrown away like used tissues. We certainly haven’t learned from history. The thoughts and reactions that our troops will return home with will be just as devastating and demoralizing as Viet Vets. The way our government conducted itself is shameful. The money spent in Afganistan might have been able to fund all the benefit claims (( currently backlogged )) at the VA.

    It is difficult to be proud and satisfied with yourself when the people you work for are such self-serving buttheads. This disappointment and discouragement affect all men and women in uniform. All of them! Even the soldiers not stationed there. How can we not feel, how can we not worry that we are next on the list to be thrown away like a used kleenex?? m

    Yeah, this is harsh. What else should you expect? Looking for truth, honesty and honor has become the exception, and not the rule. Our government leadership, and our military leadership are teaching us how to mistrust them, and question most of what they do. Yes, it is a tough and hard world we live in, but the government and military are not making it safer or better.

    Throw huge amounts of money, and throw numbers of uniforms at any problem. mason

  9. kenneth mason August 19, 2021 at 12:02 pm

    Let’s address the fact that it seems as if the hard-fought and heart-wrenching lessons we were exposed to (( No, we didn’t win those lessons. )) in Viet Nam were repeated in Afganistan. The huge number of Afghans who helped us were more or less disregarded and thrown away like used tissues. We certainly haven’t learned from history. The thoughts and reactions that our troops will return home with will be just as devastating and demoralizing as Viet Vets. The way our government conducted itself is shameful. The money spent in Afganistan might have been able to fund all the benefit claims (( currently backlogged )) at the VA.

    It is difficult to be proud and satisfied with yourself when the people you work for are such self-serving buttheads. This disappointment and discouragement affect all men and women in uniform. All of them! Even the soldiers not stationed there. How can we not feel, how can we not worry that we are next on the list to be thrown away like a used kleenex?? m

    Yeah, this is harsh. What else should you expect? Looking for truth, honesty and honor has become the exception, and not the rule. Our government leadership, and our military leadership are teaching us how to mistrust them, and question most of what they do. Yes, it is a tough and hard world we live in, but the government and military are not making it safer or better.

    Throw huge amounts of money, and throw numbers of uniforms at any problem. mason

  10. Anthony August 18, 2021 at 9:47 pm

    I did a 13 month tour on a embedded team. I was tasked to develop a training plan for the Afghan army MP,s. Then conduct combat operations thurghout the Kabul operation area. I lost good friend and 5 Afghan MP,s. I feel so hurt that we just walked away with any concerns for both Americans still in theater along with Afghans who helped the US for the last 20 years. What ashame!

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