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VA of Salt Lake City increasing outreach to vets in the wake of Afghanistan attack

(The George E. Whalen Veterans Medical Center in Salt Lake City. Deseret News, file photo)

SALT LAKE CITY – Veterans advocates say the deadly attack in Afghanistan could trigger a lot of mental health issues for vets across Utah. 

Officials with the VA Salt Lake City Health Care System say they’re stepping up their outreach efforts. They want veterans to know they can reach out for counseling if they need it.

Patient morale is low

Hospital officials tell KSL the morale among the patients getting care at the VA of Salt Lake City is low.  Spokesperson Jill Atwood says vets are trying to console each other while they watch the situation unfold in Afghanistan.  She says patients can’t pull themselves away from their TVs.

Atwood said, “If you were to walk around our health care system right now, you would see veterans gathered around the television watching breaking news.”

Hospital administrators haven’t had the time to tabulate how many calls they’re getting for mental healthcare services.

Getting more calls

However, Atwood has spoken with their on-site counselors and psychiatrists. She says, anecdotally, they have been seeing more calls for counseling even before the attack happened.  Atwood says the deteriorating conditions in Afghanistan have been top-of-mind for veterans ever since the Taliban took over.

“Obviously, something like this is extremely triggering,” Atwood said.  “A lot of folks have spent a lot of time over there and a lot of sacrifices have happened.  This is disturbing.”

She says they have a full staff of doctors and counselors on hand to help vets dealing with suicidal thoughts. However, she’s hoping the public can help.  Atwood is asking everyone to reach out to their veteran friends to see if they need care.

Thinking of the Afghan military

Former VA of Utah Director Terry Schow says veterans aren’t just thinking about their fellow soldiers who were killed or injured in the attack. They are also thinking about the members of the Afghan military, who served with US troops.  Schow says it’s frustrating to hear anyone claim that the Afghan forces simply gave up their arms and walked away.

“Sixty thousand Afghans lost their lives over the past 20 years fighting to defend their country, and they were under insurmountable odds,” Schow said.

He believes many veteran groups and military strategists tried to warn the Biden administration about potential problems if the withdrawal wasn’t handled correctly. And there were lessons that should have been learned from previous conflicts.  Additionally, Schow is especially disappointed with the Secretary of Defense and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs.

“Both have served in the Middle East and, certainly, should have some understanding of what’s going on there, but it appears as though they have not made mentions to those prior lessons,” he said.

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