Veterans who served in Afghanistan may be experiencing a range of challenging emotions related to the U.S withdrawal from the country and unfolding events. Veterans who served during other conflicts may also be feeling strong emotions as they may be reminded of their own deployment experiences.
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. Learn more about CAVHS Mental Health programs and PTSD.
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).