'Feeling of Betrayal, Isolation': US Veterans' Suicide Hotlines Heat Up Amid Botched Afghan Pullout
Those who served in the US military in recent conflicts were four times more likely to die from suicide than from combat injuries, according to a June study. More than 30,000 service personnel and veterans of post-9/11 conflicts are estimated to have died by suicide since 2001, while about 7,000 have died in military operations.
Amid the chaos of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, now controlled
by the Taliban* Islamist group, and frantic evacuation effort
from Kabul Airport, many American veterans are experiencing a particularly difficult time psychologically, reported The Daily Beast.
The mental health toll of the lightening-fast Taliban onslaught has weighed heavy on veterans who may be having suicidal thoughts, according to the Veterans Affairs Department’s national director for suicide prevention, Matthew Miller. Calls to suicide hotlines are reportedly up, according to the outlet.
According to the VA, as of 25 August, the Veterans Crisis Line had seen approximately a six percent increase in calls since 13 August. On the latter date, news had come in of the Taliban securing control of half of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals. On 16 August, the day after the Taliban secured the capital, the Veterans Crisis Line received a nearly 12 percent increase in calls, while 25 August registered a 17 percent spike as compared to the previous year.
Miller was unable to clarify whether the uptick can be directly attributed to the situation in Afghanistan.
‘Feeling of Betrayal’
Amid the frenetic mass evacuation ahead of the 31 August cutoff date for the withdrawal of Western forces from the war-torn country, veterans have had to witness the harrowing task of evacuating Afghan allies and interpreters who worked for the US and were eligible for relocation, with minimal help being provided to them from the US government.
“The government is not saving our friends, and so we’re doing it ourselves. And I think that’s compounding a feeling of betrayal and isolation”, said Paul Rieckhoff, founder and executive director of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America.
To leave behind some of these people who served with or fought alongside the US forces in Afghanistan throughout the past almost 20 years would potentially place their lives in danger. The Taliban Islamist group
has a history of hunting down those who worked for NATO forces or the previous Afghan government, which collapsed once the group entered the capital on 15 August.
The past few turbulent days have seen crowds of Afghans streaming to Hamid Karzai International Airport to try and flee the country on one of the Western flights out. Thursday’s deadly bombing attack
targeting the perimeter of the crowded airport, which killed 13 US service members and caused scores of Afghan casualties, has exacerbated the already volatile situation. Responsibility for the blasts has been claimed by Daesh*-K, a splinter group that is a Taliban rival.
Against the backdrop of these developments, several US servicemen deployed to Afghanistan have already died by suicide, claims the report.
Many veterans have been following the botched withdrawal
and started to question whether any of the military deployments were worth it.
An upsurge in requests for help has been acknowledged by nonprofit group “Stop Soldier Suicide”, which was “projecting a 15-20% increase in requests in August, as a result of the crisis in Afghanistan”, according to Tina Starkey, its chief growth officer.
“I think it’s early to really assess the mental health impacts of this sort of thing… It’s much more like it festers for a period of time, it weighs on you, then you reach out”, said Craig Gridelli, one of the co-founders of Stop Soldier Suicide.
Suicide Rates Soar
This comes as national suicide rates have been on the rise in recent years, according to data from the National Institute of Mental Health. The suicide rate for veterans was 1.5 times higher than that of non-veteran adults, claimed the recent annual VA report on suicide prevention, published last year, detailing data from 2018.
The increase in the rate of suicide of veterans and active-duty personnel outpaced that of the general population, according to both the VA and a study by the Costs of War Project published in June.
*A terrorist organisation outlawed in Russia and many other countries.