With suicide hotline calls up, Sen. Peters, others want VA to connect with veterans
With the 20-year-long military conflict between the U.S. and Afghanistan over, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters, D-Mich., and a group of nearly three dozen Democratic and Republican members are urging efforts to get underway to provide veterans with mental health help.
In a letter sent last week to the Department off Veterans Affairs, Peters, who chairs the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee and is a member of the Armed Services Committee, and the others said suicide prevention must be a priority.
They noted in a news release sent out with the letter to VA Secretary Denis McDonough that recent reports say calls to veterans' suicide hotlines have increased since the fall of Kabul, Afghanistan's capital, last month and the withdrawal of U.S. forces.
Military.com, a website for military personnel, veterans and the families, reports that texts to the VA's suicide hotline jumped 98% between Aug. 14 and Aug. 29. Chat messages and calls rose by 40% and 7% respectively, when compared with last year, the website reported.
The last U.S. military personnel flew out of Kabul on Monday, ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline for withdrawal. During the last month of the conflict, Taliban forces overwhelmed U.S.-backed Afghan forces to retake control of the country.
Afghanistan came under fire as the U.S. targeted al-Qaida following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The decision to leave Afghanistan was made by the Trump administration. The Biden administration followed through, with President Joe Biden declaring the primary U.S. mission had concluded years ago.
In the letter, Peters and the other 34 senators who signed it said the VA needs to "quickly develop a comprehensive outreach plan to connect Afghanistan and Global War on Terrorism veterans to VA benefits and services."
"More than two million veterans served during the Global War on Terrorism, including more than 800,000 in Afghanistan, and these service members deserve and earned the support that they need," the letter said. "We appreciate the VA’s commitment to providing mental health services to all veterans and ask, in light of the current situation, that the department accelerate its efforts to provide resources to veterans of these recent conflicts."
The U.S. also fought an eight-year-long war in Iraq before pulling out troops in 2011. Some troops returned to that country as part of the international effort to battle the Islamic State in 2014.
Peters and the other senators said that veterans between the ages of 18 to 34 have the highest suicide rates among former service members and that many of them don't avail themselves of VA mental health resources.
As such, they asked McDonough to develop plans to connect directly with Afghanistan veterans to determine whether they need help and show them how they can get it if they do through social media, phone calls, text messages and other means.
"As a country, we must keep the physical and mental well-being of our veterans at the forefront of our minds and efforts," the letter said. "Especially given the constant media coverage and disturbing images coming out of Afghanistan, we ask for your commitment to developing a comprehensive outreach plan. ... We must fulfill our obligation to those who served and never forget their sacrifices."
By: Todd Spangler
Source: Detroit Free Press
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