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Calls to Veterans’ Suicide Hotlines Are Up Since Fall of Kabul

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In the chaotic final days of the war in Afghanistan, veterans have been huddling around kitchen tables and living room command centers trying to evacuate allies and interpreters who worked for the U.S. And these emotional days and desperate evacuation efforts are taking a heavy psychological toll on veterans—with calls to suicide hotlines up and veterans of the war in Afghanistan openly admitting that they’re facing some of their darkest days.

Already, some who were deployed to Afghanistan have died by suicide over the last few turbulent weeks.

One of those people is Mark Longley, who worked for the Department of Defense in Afghanistan from 2012 through at least 2014. He died by suicide on August 14, his friends told The Daily Beast.

One of Longley’s former colleagues—Andrew Strutt, who worked on cybersecurity for the Army in Iraq and Afghanistan—said he didn’t know exactly what triggered his friend’s suicide.

“But I know that he believed in what we did out there and he was a hard worker and he talked about his wife all the time, and he loved her incredibly,” Strutt said. “And he was loved by family and friends. I feel bad I couldn’t do anything for him. I just didn’t know.”

Following the news of Longley’s death, Strutt and friends reached out to everyone they knew who served with Longley to check in on their mental health and see how they were handling the fall of Kabul.

“For about a week, I spent as much time as I could reaching out to all of my former colleagues and associates in the services and let them know that I’m thinking about them and to be there if they need someone to talk to,” Strutt said.

He added that veterans and other civilians who served in Afghanistan might still be turning inwards when what they might need is to talk and connect. “There are some who are just so battle-hardened they just won’t admit [their feelings]—they say it’s no big deal. They put on a stone-cold, non-reaction to it,” Strutt said.

The mental health toll of the Taliban’s rapid takeover of Afghanistan has weighed heavy on veterans who may be having suicidal thoughts, according to the Veterans Affairs Department’s national director for suicide prevention, Matthew Miller.

The VA told The Daily Beast that, as of Aug. 25, the Veterans Crisis Line had received approximately a 6 percent increase in calls since Aug. 13, when news broke that the Taliban had gained control of half of Afghanistan’s provincial capitals.

On Aug. 16, the day after Kabul fell to the Taliban, the Veterans Crisis Line received a nearly 12 percent increase in calls, compared to the volume of calls last year on the same day. On Aug. 25, the call line had a 17 percent increase compared to the previous year. Miller clarified that the VA doesn’t know if the uptick is directly attributable to the situation in Afghanistan, and attributing any suicide to one particular cause vastly oversimplifies complex mental health challenges.

But it’s clear that many veterans are struggling to watch a country that they fought in for 20 years now fall to the Taliban.

For some who have been against the war, watching the withdrawal spiral out of........

© The Daily Beast

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