Our mission at the Ohio Department of Veterans Services (ODVS) is to provide opportunities and resources for our veteran community through advocacy, collaboration and partnerships. This endeavor is most important during times of crisis, and that is what some Afghanistan-era veterans are experiencing right now.
With our country depleting its military presence in Afghanistan, many of those who were involved in that 20-year conflict are left wondering how to reconcile their service.
These feelings are real and justified. Therefore, ODVS wants to ensure that veterans and their loved ones are pointed toward competent mental health resources and other outlets that can help provide understanding and coping mechanisims.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has compiled a wealth of information on the topic and that is specific to Afghanistan service members. A few of the key links are below:
- Afghanistan: How Veterans can reconcile service (VA Blog)
- Afghanistan: How Veterans can learn from Vietnam Veterans (VA Blog)
- Let's talk about Afghanistan: Resources for Veterans and their families | VAntage Point
- Together We Served (VA Blog)
- VA Mental Health Quick Start Guide (PDF)
Another valued partner, the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (ODMHAS), has put together its own list of resources for Afghanistan service members and their families. With guidance from our department, ODMHAS recently published the following information:
Resources for Military Service Members and Veterans
Military service members and veterans from all eras are reacting to the recent events in Afghanistan. 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. You are not alone. It’s normal to feel this way. Talk with your friends and families, reach out to battle buddies, connect with a peer-to-peer network, or sign up for mental health services. Scroll down for a list common reactions and coping advice.
In reaction to current events in Afghanistan, Veterans may:
- Feel frustrated, sad, helpless, grief or distressed.
- Feel angry or betrayed.
- Experience an increase in mental health symptoms like symptoms of PTSD or depression.
- Sleep poorly, drink more or use more drugs.
- Try to avoid all reminders or media or shy away from social situations.
- Have more military and homecoming memories.
- 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.
- Veterans may feel like they need to expect and/or prepare for the worst. For example, they 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 feel 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, these general coping suggestions can be helpful:
- Engage 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.
- Stay 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.
- Practice 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.
- Stick 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.
- Limit Media Exposure. Limit how much news you take in if media coverage is increasing your distress.
- Use a mobile app. Consider one of VA’s self-help apps.
- Make the Connection (PTSD Resources)
- Military and Veteran Caregiver Network
- Star Behavioral Health Providers
- PTSD Coach App
Of course, any former service member who is in distress or simply struggling can access the Veterans Crisis Line 24/7 at (800) 273-8255 Option 1 or by simply dialing 988. By accessing the Crisis Line and selecting option 1, callers are immediately connected to counselors who are adept in military service issues and those conversations are always confidential.
Here are more outlets for Afghanistan veterans who may be struggling:
- Statement from the American Legion of Ohio
- Statement from the Disabled American Veterans
- Statement from the National Veterans Memorial & Museum
- Spectrum News Story Concerning Help for Veterans with PTSD