NORWOOD, Ohio — As the final hours of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan have ticked down, some cases of mental health tied to post-traumatic stress sparked by the chaos in Kabul have some veterans reaching out for help.
“It was heartbreaking. To see what people sacrificed and gave up for 20 years to watch it all just crumble before us,” Air Force veteran Tyler Britton said.
He’s served on a critical care transport team during the war. It was a fast-paced job he said he loved, and one he felt played a role in the ongoing fight against the Taliban.
“There were three tours, there were about 90 missions, 150 or so patients all around the world,” Britton said.
Now, 20 years later, the Taliban is back in control. As a veteran looking at the uprising of concern across non-military or veteran groups, he said, he can see an awakening regarding the fact that U.S. troops were still in Afghanistan.
“I've heard more about Afghanistan in the past two weeks than I had, you know, since I joined in 2000,” Britton said. “It's kind of disheartening to see. It's disheartening on both ends, right. You got an American public who, quite frankly, didn't care. And then you have the, the other side, where you watch all the sacrifices that people made, and now it's just gone. It's all for naught.”
Frustrations are being experienced by many Afghanistan war veterans.
“The primary reaction has been increased PTSD symptoms, which can include flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, hyper arousal, hyper vigilance,” said Cher Runtenelli, director of the Cincinnati area Vet Center.
She said the number of walk-ins and return veterans coming in the door of the center on Montgomery Road in Norwood with specific issues tied to the images they’re seeing on television has increased. In some instances, they’re Vietnam-era veterans with memories of the evacuation of Saigon.
The predominant veterans coming through the door right now, Runtenelli said, are those who’ve never really sought treatment for issues dealing with their wartime experiences.
”One symptom of PTSD is what we call avoidance, and you want to avoid all your thoughts and feelings related to your experience,” she said.
Army National Guard and Iraq War veteran Taylor Katt decided to use his school benefits after his service to become a certified counselor to help his fellow veterans post service. He now works at the Vet Center.
“We are getting blown up with calls," he said. "I mean, there's just call after call of people who have never engaged in this, is the tipping point for them.”
He said one part in the process toward healing is to ensure that these Afghanistan veterans focus on the single mission they were responsible for and the fact that they completed the mission they were tasked with during deployment.
“You did your part, like don't carry the weight of the world almost,” Katt said. “That's all we can ask for any service member.”
Being mindful of your thoughts and what you're feeling and thinking during this time is also critical to realize you may need to reach out to the Vet Center, he said.
“Realize that maybe there's something past anger, push past that anger, maybe, maybe you're hurting," Katt said. "And hurting is best realized in community. We're not meant to be an island. So come, you know, hurt with us because we're hurting too. But we, thank God, have some skills. And we've learned a few tricks and we want to share those tricks with our fellow veterans.”
The counseling sessions have turned the compass for him, Katt said, and he encourages his fellow Afghan war vets to take that first step.
“A lot of veterans are kind of taught to suck it up and move on,” he said. “So, I think it'll take a while for these groups to really get going. But once they do, I think there'll be a lot of freedom in that and realizing you're not alone – and your experience and what you're going through.”
Due to the increase in the number of veterans coming through the door, the Vet Center has extended its counseling services. Patient walk-ins are welcome anytime during normal hours. Group sessions for Afghan war veterans take place every Tuesday at 11 a.m. and 6 p.m.
The Vet Center is located at 4545 Montgomery Rd, Norwood, OH 45212. Their phone number is 513-763-3500.