After the US military ended a 20-year presence in Afghanistan in August, veterans are left feeling hurt and angry. 73% of Afghanistan veterans feel betrayed over the withdrawal, while 67% are humiliated. Over 7 in 10 veterans also believe they’re going to have a difficult time processing the end of the war and 76% admit to now feeling like strangers in their own country. Steps must be taken to reintegrate veterans into society and help them avoid the same fate as Vietnam veterans, many of whom became detached and isolated.
The Department of Veterans Affairs experienced a 30% increase in calls to its suicide hotline between Aug. 15–31. Additionally, Vets4Warriors, a national call center run out of Rutgers University that immediately connects service members to veterans, has also experienced an uptick in calls since U.S. troop withdrawal. “Loneliness is one of the top reasons we get calls, and we’ve always gotten calls”, says founder Maj. Gen. Mark Graham. “And the loneliness has just grown and grown, exacerbated through the pandemic. And then when the Afghanistan withdrawal hit, it really impacted because they weren’t near each other”.
Support for veterans
Veterans need to be provided with support in all areas of life to help reintegrate them into American society. VA home loans, for example, help veterans purchase their own homes with a 0% down payment. VA loan eligibility includes having 90-consecutive days of active service during wartime or 181-days of active service during peacetime. Additionally, veterans’ social, mental, and physical mental needs can be further met by providing opportunities to collaborate with civilians on local community projects, along with holding public ceremonies honoring their service.
Resettling Afghan allies
70% of veterans believe America left Afghanistan dishonorably, while 57% of Americans agree. If these sentiments aren’t addressed, they can become an undermining force in veterans’ lives and the wider body politic. 63% of veterans agree too many of Afghan allies were left behind and believe the US is morally obligated to resettle them. Such an act would therefore reverse the widespread feeling of national dishonor and improve the mental health of 78% of veterans.
Although the war in Afghanistan ended in chaos and defeat for the US, steps can still be taken to support veterans left feeling angry and betrayed. Resettling Afghans left behind, along with housing and community support, in particular, can go a long way to mitigate bitterness and improve mental health.