SALEM, Va. – American veterans may be feeling a mix of emotions about the two decades of war in Afghanistan ending with the Taliban taking over.
“It’s like an emptiness,” Mark Shelton said.
Shelton served in the artillery in the U.S. Army for three years and remembers his 8-month deployment in Afghanistan.
“I know personally I’ve been feeling a lot of conflict in myself about why we were there and what were we doing,” he said.
He said for the past few days he has worried about the mental health of veterans as he knows they may feel a sense of defeat.
“Don’t give up. It’s not anything to give up over,” he said. “It sucks. It hurts. Afghanistan, all though it’s a beautiful country, it’s going through absolute turmoil and I wish the best for them.”
Both Shelton and Dr. Dana Holohan, the director of the Salem VA Medical Center for Traumatic Stress, say veterans should not feel like their sacrifices were for nothing.
“All of their service is still important regardless of what’s going on and that they are valued,” Holohan said. “It’s ok to be having a hard time. That’s very normal. Those symptoms do quiet down. It’s important to reach out for help if you need it.”
She encourages veterans to talk to family or a counselor to get their feelings off their chest.
“Sometimes we tend to isolate or hold back instead of letting people know, ‘Hey, actually, this is really upsetting,’” she said.
Holohan suggests people check out the National Center for PTSD to learn about coping methods.
She said people can also take advantage of the PTSD Coach app that offers tools for people with PTSD to help them get through daily life stresses.
Shelton suggests turning to Vietnam War veterans who may have similar feelings.
“So, I do want to put them on the pedestal for this one and say the Vietnam veterans are going to be somebody who we can look to for guidance and support when it comes to understanding and dealing with this,” he said.
Shelton is pursuing a degree at Radford University to help veterans battling mental health concerns and he said now is a good time for the community to lend an ear.
“If you know someone who served in Afghanistan, you should reach out to them,” he said. “Check in on them. See how they are doing. You shouldn’t be pushy. Just check in on them.”
The Veteran Crisis Line is also available for veterans facing suicidal thoughts. Call 1-800-273-8255 to seek services.