The Crisis Hotline for Military Veterans Saw a Surge in Calls Since Kabul Fell to the Taliban

  • The Department of Veterans Affairs crisis hotline received 1,681 calls on the day the Taliban swept to power in Afghanistan.
  • This was a 9% increase from the same day in 2020. 
  • A UK veterans’ helpline has also seen double the number of calls it is used to receiving every day.

The crisis helpline run by the US Department of Veterans Affairs has seen an increase in the number of people calling in since Kabul fell to the Taliban last week.

The helpline saw a 9% increase in calls on August 15 in comparison to the same day last year, said Gary Kunich, a public affairs specialist for the department to The Hill. This was the day news broke that Taliban militants had swept to power and taken over Afghanistan’s capital.

Kunich told The Hill that the helpline received a total of 1,681 calls on August 15, 2021. The helpline picked up 1,456 calls on the same day in 2020.

He noted that from August 13 to 16 — the days leading up to and after Kabul’s capitulation — the helpline also received 531 calls more than it did during the same timeframe last year. 

The Pentagon last week sent out a circular containing a list of mental-health resources for US veterans who fought in Afghanistan, encouraging service members to remember that their work was not in vain.

The Pentagon sent the message to service members amid a deluge of reports on the chaos unfolding in Afghanistan and the upcoming 20th anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Military members are also facing immense stress while pushing for the US government to help their Afghan friends and allies whose lives could be in grave danger if they cannot be evacuated before American airlifts cease. 

“Remember that what is happening now does not minimize or negate the experiences of all who served overseas,” the message read. “Service is never for naught.”

The memo also noted that talking “can be very therapeutic” and advised that service members should “do what feels right for (them).” 

“Remember that this is one moment in time, and regardless of what comes next, we will get through it together,” the memo read. 

NPR reported this June that military suicides since September 11 have been four times higher than combat deaths. Citing a study by Brown University’s Cost of War Project, NPR highlighted a sobering statistic: More than 7,000 service members have died in military operations over the last two decades, but the number of suicides by active duty service members and military veterans has exceeded 30,000.

The increase in the number of military members opting to tap on mental health resources is not unique to the US. The BBC reported last week that the number of calls to the helpline run by UK veterans’ non-profit Combat Stress doubled since the Taliban took control of Afghanistan. 

Jeff Harrison, the interim CEO of Combat Stress, told the BBC that ex-service personnel may be dealing with “moral injury” in the wake of the Afghanistan troop draw down. 

“While they were there, they knew they were doing something that was really worthwhile — they were helping out a country, they were keeping the rest of the world safe, they were doing everything that was asked of them. They knew that it was a moral cause they were there for, and it was an ethical cause,” Harrison said. 

“And they look now at what’s happening, about people just pulling out effectively overnight, and they just wonder what it was all for. Was it just a futile effort?” Harrison added. 

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