Rev. Kevin Coder, chaplain | Aug 31, 2021
By Kevin Coder (Director of Spiritual Life) and Walker Methodist’s Spiritual Life Team
Veterans from all eras are reacting to the events in Afghanistan: the U.S. withdrawal and the takeover by the Taliban. These veterans are our residents, fellow team members, and maybe even you.
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. It’s important that veterans 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.
In reaction to current events in Afghanistan, veterans may:
Feel frustrated, sad, helpless, grief, or distressed
Feel angry or betrayed
Experience an increase in mental health symptoms like symptoms of PTSD or depression
Sleep poorly, drink more, or use more drugs
Try to avoid all reminders or media or shy away from social situations
Have more military and homecoming memories
They may feel more moral distress about experiences they had during their service. Veterans may feel like they need to expect and/or prepare for the worst.
For example, they may:
Become overly protective, vigilant, and guarded
Become preoccupied by danger
Feel a need to avoid being shocked by, or unprepared for, what may happen in the future
Feeling distress is a normal reaction to negative events, especially ones that feel personal. It can be helpful to let yourself feel those feelings rather than try to avoid them. Often, these feelings will naturally run their course. If they continue without easing up or if you feel overwhelmed by them, the suggestions below can be helpful.
At this moment, it may seem like all is lost, like your service or your sacrifices were for nothing. Consider the ways that your service made a difference, the impact it had on others’ lives or on your own life. Remember that now is just one moment in time and that things will continue to change.
It can be helpful to focus on the present and to engage in the activities that are most meaningful and valuable to you. Is there something you can do today that is important to you? This can be as an individual, a family member, a parent, or a community member. Something that is meaningful to you in regard to your work or your spirituality? Such activities won’t change the past or the things you can’t control, but they can help life feel meaningful and reduce distress, despite the things you cannot change.
It can also help to consider your thinking. Ask yourself if your thoughts are helpful to you right now. Are there ways you can change your thinking to be more accurate and less distressing? For example, are you using extreme thinking where you see the situation as all bad or all good? If so, try and think in less extreme terms. For example, rather than thinking “my service in Afghanistan was useless” consider instead “I helped keep Afghanistan safe.”
Finally, consider more general coping strategies that you may want to try including:
Engage in positive activities. Try to engage in positive, healthy, or meaningful activities, even if they are small, simple actions. Doing things that are rewarding, meaningful, or enjoyable, even if you don’t feel like it, can make you feel better.
Stay connected. Spend time with people who give you a sense of security, calm, or happiness, or those who best understand what you are going through.
Practice good self care. Look for positive coping strategies that help you manage your emotions. Listening to music, exercising, practicing breathing routines, spending time in nature or with animals, journaling, or reading inspirational text are some simple ways to help manage overwhelming or distressing emotions.
Stick to your routines. It can be helpful to stick to a schedule for when you sleep, eat, work, and do other day-to-day activities.
Limit media exposure. Limit how much news you take in if media coverage is increasing your distress.
Use a mobile app. Consider one of VA’s self-help apps (see https://www.ptsd.va.gov/appvid/mobile/) such as PTSD Coach which has tools that can help you deal with common reactions like, stress, sadness, and anxiety. You can also track your symptoms over time.
PTSD Coach Online. A series of online video coaches will guide you through 17 tools to help you manage stress. PTSD Coach Online is used on a computer, rather than a mobile device, and therefore can offer tools that involve writing.
If you develop your own ways of adapting to ongoing events and situations, you may gain a stronger sense of being able to deal with challenges, a greater sense of meaning or purpose, and an ability to mentor and support others in similar situations.
Veterans Crisis Line: If you are having thoughts of suicide, call 1-800-273-8255, then PRESS 1 or visit http://www.veteranscrisisline.net/.
For emergency mental healthcare, you can also go directly to your local VA medical center 24/7 regardless of your discharge status or enrollment in other VA healthcare.
Vet Centers: Discuss how you feel with other veterans in these community-based counseling centers. 70% of Vet Center staff are veterans. Call 1-877-927-8387 or find one near you.
VA Mental Health Services Guide: This guide will help you sign up and access mental health services.
MakeTheConnection.net: Information, resources, and veteran-to-veteran videos for challenging life events and experiences with mental health issues.
RallyPoint: Talk to other veterans online. Discuss: What are your feelings as the Taliban reclaim Afghanistan after 20 years of US involvement?
Download VA's self-help apps: Tools to help deal with common reactions like, stress, sadness, and anxiety. You can also track your symptoms over time.
Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS): Request a peer mentor.
VA Women Veterans Call Center: Call or text 1-855-829-6636 (Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET; Saturday 8 a.m to 6:30 p.m. ET).
VA Caregiver Support Line: Call 1-855-260-3274 (Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. ET; Saturday 8 a.m to 5 p.m. ET).
Together We Served: Find your battle buddies through unit pages
George W. Bush Institute: Need help or want to talk? Check-in by emailing email: firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 1-630-522-4904.
Elizabeth Dole Foundation Hidden Heroes: Join the Community
American Red Cross Military Veteran Caregiver Network: Peer support and mentoring
Team Red, White & Blue: Hundreds of events weekly. Find a chapter in your area.
Student Veterans of America: Find a campus chapter to connect with.
Team Rubicon: Find a local support squad.
By David Cobb, Walker Methodist chaplain
God most benevolent and ever merciful: we magnify your name through all the earth. You hold in your embrace the visible and hidden, the end and the beginning, the old and the new. Teach us to live in harmony with your loving purposes and each other, that we may put an end to war. In the languages of faith and Afghanistan’s culture, we pray: shalom, salaam, sulh, amniat, peace.
For the generations who have known only conflict in the cities, villages, mountains, and ancient crossroads, we pray: shalom, salaam, sulh, amniat, peace.
For the dignity and rights of women and girls to pursue education, employment, equality, and self-determination, we pray: shalom, salaam, sulh, amniat, peace.
For children to go to school and not the battlefield, to succeed where we have failed, to build up and not tear down, we pray: shalom, salaam, sulh, amniat, peace.
For those whose wounds are visible and whose wounds are hidden, soldier and civilian, that they may heal, we pray: shalom, salaam, sulh, amniat, peace.
For the religious of every tradition, that we may set aside idolatries of politics and power, to honor you in our life together, we pray: shalom, salaam, sulh, amniat, peace.
For UNICEF, the Red Cross, and all who bring emergency relief and development, to remain resilient for all who are in need, we pray: shalom, salaam, sulh, amniat, peace.
Hear our pleas of humble longing for the day you make all things new. Amen.
(These are the words for Peace in Hebrew, Arabic, Dari, Pashto, English. Dari [called Farsi pre-1964] and Pashto are the official languages of Afghanistan. Hebrew and Arabic are included in the litany because of the common Semitic-language roots of Jewish and Islamic sacred writings. English, also included, is spoken by 5% of the Afghan population.)