End of Afghanistan war puts spotlight on mental health of soldiers, veterans

Published: Sep. 2, 2021 at 4:55 PM EDT
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WATERTOWN, New York (WWNY) - U.S. veterans and active duty soldiers could be having a difficult time seeing what’s happening in Afghanistan.

Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin made his point clear: mental health is health, period. He’s one of many voices joining the conversation on how to support military members as America exits Afghanistan.

“For those who need help, please seek help. We’re there for you,” said Austin.

The message is echoed by the commander of the 10th Mountain Division, the most deployed division of the U.S. Army since the 9/11 attacks. Division soldiers executed many missions in Afghanistan.

Fort Drum is home to 19,000 active duty soldiers and the region is home to close to 7,000 veterans from all military branches. As the Taliban takes control of Afghanistan, there’s a heightened awareness of how difficult it can be for soldiers to see.

“We fight and win our nation’s wars. But, we also take care of our battle buddies. Given everything you see, that’s what I ask you to do with your families, with your teammates, is take care of them, listen to them, be there for them when they need you,” said Major General Milford Beagle Jr., commander of the 10th Mountain Division.

Air Force veteran and Syracuse University social work professor Kenneth Marfilius says military members reaching out to their battle buddies can be a way for them to talk with someone who’s been in their boots.

“Through those conversations, almost sort of like the buddy system as we know it in the military, we can also create those linkages to potential needed services,” he said.

Marfilius says he’s been a part of these conversations and shares how the people who’ve served feel as they watch the events in Afghanistan unfold.

“This sort of really intense feeling of the need to do something in this moment, and a feeling of helplessness. The feelings do not make the veterans week, right? But strong,” he said.

And civilians can help the military community, too. Marfilius says it doesn’t take much.

“It’s really simple to start off. You can call a veteran or military member today and simply ask how they’re doing. You just never know that that call may save a life,” he said.

Marfilius notes everyone experiences things differently, so family and friends might be the best resource for some military members. Veterans seeking more immediate help, can also call the Veterans Crisis Line.

That number is 1-800-273-8255 and press 1. You can also text 838255.

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