Taliban takeover in Afghanistan takes emotional toll on those who served

Taliban fighters stand guard at a checkpoint near the US embassy that was previously manned by American troops, in Kabul, Afghanistan, on Tuesday. (Uncredited, Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Veterans, service members and families: What you are feeling after watching Afghanistan fall to an enemy America fought for nearly 20 years is normal. And there is help for you to get through it.

The Department of Veterans Affairs wants you to know if you are feeling frustrated, sad, helpless or betrayed, you are not alone in those feelings and there are resources right now if you need it.

Many current and former members of the military have expressed a wide range of emotions – including mental health symptoms like PTSD or depression.

VA says veterans may question the meaning of their service or whether it was worth the sacrifices they made. They may feel more moral distress about experiences they had during their service and now may feel as if they need to expect or prepare for the worst.

Katie Eicher of the Department of Veterans Affairs joins us to discuss how veterans returning from Afghanistan can find assistance and support.

The experts at VA want you to know that feeling distress is a normal reaction to negative events, especially ones that feel personal. It can be helpful to let yourself feel those feelings rather than try to avoid them. Often, these feelings will naturally run their course.

“We want all veterans to know that we are here to support you and to help facilitate connecting you with resources within VA and outside of VA to ensure that your healthcare needs are met,” suicide prevention supervisor Katherine Eicher told News4Jax. “This includes not only mental health but access to telehealth resources, COVID 19 vaccines, primary and specialty care and more.”

If troubling emotions continue without easing or if you feel overwhelmed by them, try:

  • Engaging in positive activities: Try to engage in positive, healthy, or meaningful activities, even if they are small, simple actions. Doing things that are rewarding, meaningful, or enjoyable, even if you don’t feel like it, can make you feel better.
  • Staying connected: Spend time with people who give you a sense of security, calm, or happiness, or those who best understand what you are going through.
  • Practicing good self-care: Look for positive coping strategies that help you manage your emotions. Listening to music, exercising, practicing breathing routines, spending time in nature or with animals, journaling, or reading inspirational text are some simple ways to help manage overwhelming or distressing emotions.
  • Sticking to your routines. It can be helpful to stick to a schedule for when you sleep, eat, work, and do other day-to-day activities.
  • Limiting media exposure: Limit how much news you take in if media coverage is increasing your distress.
  • Using a mobile app: Consider one of VA’s self-help apps such as PTSD Coach, which has tools that can help you deal with common reactions like, stress, sadness, and anxiety. You can also track your symptoms over time.
  • PTSD Coach Online: It has a series of online video coaches who will guide you through 17 tools to help you manage stress. PTSD Coach Online is used on a computer, rather than a mobile device, and therefore can offer tools that involve writing.

Help is available right now

If you or a family member or friend is a veteran, a service member, in the reserve or National Guard, there is help every day all day through the Veterans Crisis Line. You can call (800-273-8255 and press 1), text 838255 or chat.

For EMERGENCY MENTAL HEALTH CARE, you can also go to a VA Medical Center near you -- regardless of your discharge status or enrollment in other VA health care.

Additional resources available