Veterans and Afghanistan

Within the past few days, I have written here about my reaction to press reports on the chaos in Afghanistan and its similarities to the anarchy when Saigon fell forty-six years ago. I was there in Saigon and watched it happen until I escaped under fire after the North Vietnamese were already in the streets of the city. The scenes in Kabul brought back my memories as if the Vietnamese collapse was yesterday. My Post-Traumatic Stress Injury (PTSI) came back in force.

I didn’t realize until I attended the monthly meeting of the American Legion last Thursday that I am not the only one. Veterans everywhere are reacting to the news just as I did. Each of us at the meeting received a copy of a handout from the Veterans Administration Maryland Health Care System intended to help us cope. I quote from it below:

“Veterans from all eras are reacting to the events in Afghanistan, such as the U.S. withdrawal and the takeover by the Taliban. You are not alone. Veterans may question the meaning of their service or whether it was worth the sacrifices they made. They may feel more moral distress about experiences they had during their service. It’s normal to feel this way. Talk with your friends and families, reach out to battle buddies, connect with a peer-to-peer network, or sign up for mental health services.”

The text goes on to list available resources to help veterans cope.

Much of the conversation at the meeting dealt with reactions to the news. I learned that all of us were shaken by the press reports that brought back our own memories of the battlefield. Those most affected were the ones who fought in Afghanistan.

One of the symptoms of PTSI is the belief that the sufferer is alone, that is, that he is the only one affected by the experience of having fought on the battlefield. One way to manage the disease is to understand that there are many of us marked by the disorder. Another is to find a way to talk with others about our memories.

I was comforted in my distress by seeing, once again, that I am not alone. My brothers, who suffer just as I do, are with me. We will comfort each other.

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