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Veteran Suicide Hotline Surged During Afghanistan Withdrawal

Between August 13 and August 29, more than 35,000 veterans called the VA's suicide hotline

More than 35,000 veterans called the VA’s suicide hotline during the final two weeks of America’s withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Veterans Affairs data provided to The Washington Examiner show a sharp spike in calls between August 13 and 29, when “the U.S. military and coalition forces were embarking on what would become one of the largest airlifts in history as they worked around the clock to evacuate foreign nationals and Afghan allies who could be at risk under the Taliban regime.”

“There was an average of 2,060 calls a day during that time frame, with the most, 2,570, occurring on Monday, Aug. 16, when Kabul fell under Taliban control,” the Examiner adds. 

According to information from the Pentagon, more than 800,000 Americans have served in Afghanistan since October 2001. The Department of Defense reports that 2,352 American service members died there and over 20,000 were wounded, per Fox News.

In a letter to letter to Veteran’s Affairs, Senator Jerry Moran wrote that there was an 11% uptick in calls to the crisis line since August 15. His public letter asks Denis R. McDonough, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, how the military plans to support those veterans and service members struggling in the wake of the events in Afghanistan.

Moran posed the following six questions to McDonough, requesting a reply by September 13, 2021:

  1. Since the decision was made to withdraw all U.S. troops from Afghanistan in 2021, how has VA coordinated with the Departments of Defense and State, the White House, and with any other agencies on potential impacts to VA and the benefits and services it provides? Please provide a general timeline of this coordination and the potential impacts that were identified. 
  2. Did the administration consult with VA on the impact to veterans prior to finalizing any withdrawal plans? 
  3. What forecasts did VA make on the impact the withdrawal would have on demand for VA mental health services? What steps has VA taken to prepare for the forecasted impacts? 
  4. What steps has VA taken to prepare for the increased call volume to the VCL, and what is the expected timeline for VA’s response to this increased demand?
  5. What specific messages have been tailored for VCL respondents, and how is the VCL working to properly handle this particular crisis that is negatively impacting many veterans? 
  6. What efforts has VA made to reach out to veteran serving and other community organizations to bolster their work in assisting veterans through this crisis? 

Moran, a Republican from Kansas, wrote, “We know that the worsening situation for our Afghan allies will negatively impact many of our military veterans, and it is our duty to provide adequate support for those veterans as our country grapples with the fallout from our withdrawal from Afghanistan.”

Army reserve psychologist Nicole French told Fox News that it was normal and expected that veterans would have an emotional reaction to what occurred in Afghanistan.

“People are remembering [and] making sense of their own lived experience,” she said.

The Veterans Crisis Line can be reached at 1-800-273-8255.

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