How Afghan Iowa Veterans Can Get Help for Mental Health

Commander Michael Braman of the Iowa Foreign War Veterans encourages veterans grappling with recent events in Afghanistan to know that their service matters and to seek help if they need it.

“We have a lot of veterans that bring back memories of it,” Braman said, explaining that the Taliban takeover had left many veterans of several wars angry, frustrated, upset and saddened, himself included. .

Braman served as the Army Infantry Squad Leader in Bamiyan and Jalalabad, Afghanistan, from 2004 to 2005. During this period, he participated in more than 200 combat missions, fighting alongside military personnel. Afghan National Army and US military. He also ate meals with Afghan civilians and shared candy and soda with Afghan children. He has thought about these children a lot in the last few days.

“Being a father is something that I always loved to do, it was to interact with the children there, so I would have liked to know where they were right now, or if they have become. interpreter or Afghan National Army, because they were kids and they would be, you know, probably in their twenties now, ”he said.

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He imagines that the dams and schools he helped build to provide a place for young girls to receive an education have either disappeared or are now occupied by the Taliban.

“Now it’s all been pretty much done, everything we’ve done,” Braman said.

Pockets of resistance have started to take shape in Afghanistan, notably by ousted Vice President Amrullah Saleh, who is fighting the Taliban in the Panjshir Valley. Saleh proclaimed himself the country’s interim president after Ashraf Ghani fled Afghanistan for fear of being executed on August 15.

The Taliban, however, still control almost all of the country.

The rapid and alarming takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban after the withdrawal of American troops worried Braman, whose service there began only three years after the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001.

“We went over there and I felt they attacked us,” Braman said. “They had hit our World Trade Centers, and it was the Taliban. It was Osama bin Laden, and now to see the Taliban come back to power there, it was just embarrassing for me.”

Braman said the Taliban takeover left many veterans feeling their service was useless, and he wants them to know that is not the case.

“The VFW, we stand behind our veterans in Afghanistan and want them to know that they served with honor, valor and distinction,” he said. “Our nation owes them a huge debt of gratitude for the past 20 years. Because of their safety and security, we have not had another terrorist attack because of what they were doing there.… Their service was for something. “

The end of the war in Afghanistan brought back difficult memories and feelings of guilt to veterans of other wars, most notably the Vietnam War and the civil war in Somalia.

“It’s not just me that feels like this,” Braman said. “There are a lot of veterans who feel that way. I’ve heard several veterans, ‘Well, what was that worth?’ We sacrificed so much for our veterans, our brothers and sisters who made the ultimate sacrifice. “

Braman pointed out that veterans who struggle to cope, whether it’s post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, suicidal thoughts or general feelings of guilt, anger or sadness, should not hesitate to ask for help.

“As we watch these events unfold in Afghanistan, we just need to make sure we let them know that as an organization we are with them, and if they need any help they need to talk to someone. a, feel free to contact their local post, contact me at state headquarters, ”he said. “I can put them in touch with the VA, make sure they have their veterans hotline if they want to talk to someone or if they’re really struggling right now.”

Sometimes, said Braman, just talking to someone who has had similar experiences can help.

It was during a chance encounter at a grocery store that Air Force veteran Robert Otto met a local Veterans Services officer who helped him launch his career to become the coordinator of the suicide prevention for the Iowa City VA health care system.

Otto was experiencing culture shock upon his return from active duty when he met the officer, who asked him if he was involved in the VA and if he was aware of all the services available to him. Otto didn’t, but it didn’t take long for him to make it his mission to help other vets navigate the system.

“It’s good to disagree”: How veterans and their loved ones can access mental health services and other supports

Otto said many veterans have been seeking help since the United States began withdrawing troops from Afghanistan, especially last week.

“We have seen people who are quite deeply affected,” he said.

Veterans can connect to services in their area by calling the Veterans Crisis Line at (800) 273-8255 and pressing 1. The line is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

The person online can refer veterans for service and / or assessment by the VA Suicide Intervention Team as needed by the caller.

The Crisis Line is also accessible by texting 838255 or online at VeteransCrisisLine.net.

The website has a locator service that can tell you where the nearest VA clinic is.

Otto also recommended that veterans, as well as family and friends of veterans, visit MentalHealth.va.gov, which “talks about many mental health issues, how to help, and where to turn for it.”

There is also MakeTheConnection.net, which contains a wide variety of information on mental health issues in veterans of all periods of combat, from those in Afghanistan and Iraq to WWII, as well as strategies. adaptation.

What are the signs that a veteran, or someone else, needs help?

Anyone, veteran or not, suffering from a mental health crisis, such as a feeling of suicide, should go to the nearest emergency room or call 911.

Otto said there are several signs that a person may need mental health services or other supports. They understand:

  • Comments such as “I don’t see any other way out” or “I don’t see this situation or my situation improving. “
  • Increased drug or alcohol use and self-medication behaviors
  • Adopting risky behavior
  • Withdrawal from others and isolation

“We see a lot of isolation from veterans, especially many veterans who may have some sort of trauma, whether it’s combat trauma, military sexual trauma, coming back. just active duty, ”Otto said. “Isolation is a really big deal with that.”

Otto said those who struggle but don’t think they are to the point of needing professional help can be successful with various smartphone and tablet apps designed to manage symptoms of PTSD, while others may find it more helpful to connect with support networks within their community. , such as the VFW, American Legion, or your local Veterans Services office. The route they take, he said, depends on the person.

Otto noted that veterans are sometimes reluctant to reach out and ask for help, but stressed that fixing the issues would not help them in the long run.

“It’s good not to be well,” said Otto. “A lot of veterans are pushed into situations where they’re human in inhumane situations, so I think they allow themselves to recognize that and just say, ‘Hey, I’m suffering from this. I might not be at the point where I need professional help or feel suicidal, but it’s important to recognize this, and if it’s something they would like help with , while it’s not traditional mental health therapy, whether drugged or not, it’s fine to go out and try something different just so they can cope.

“People struggle, but I think what’s especially important to the veteran population is that it’s like the whole identity is, ‘I’m in the military. I’m a soldier, aviator, sailor, or sailor, and it’s my job to suck that I can take it. While this can translate into completing a mission on the battlefield under truly hostile and extreme conditions, it just doesn’t fit just about anywhere else in life. “

Resources for Southeastern Iowa Veterans

  • Burlington Community Outpatient Clinic: (319) 752-3722
  • National VA registration hotline (if not already registered with VA): 1-877-222-VETS
  • Des Moines County Veterans Duty Officer: (319) 752-7171
  • Burlington VFW: (319) 754-6049
  • Iowa VFW: (515) 699-5999
  • American Legion Auxiliary: (319) 394-3525
  • Veterans Crisis Line: 1-800-273-8255, press 1; VeteransCrisisLine.net; Text 838255
  • Mental health.va.gov
  • MakeTheConnection.net

About Harry Qualls

Harry Qualls

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