Afghanistan chaos, images put spotlight on military mental health

Michael Perchick Image
Wednesday, September 1, 2021
Afghanistan chaos, images put spotlight on military mental health
In Fayetteville, veterans ripped the Biden administration's handling of Afghanistan and talked about the importance of mental-health resources for service members.

FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- The last American soldier -- from Fort Bragg -- left Afghanistan on Monday, bringing an end to nearly two decades of war...

But there are still Americans as well as Afghans who aided US military efforts who remain in the country.

The State Department said there are fewer than 200 Americans who would like to leave but are still there -

That's on top of Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients and their families unable to get out.

READ MORE: Biden defends handling of US withdrawal from Afghanistan

Lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle have urged the Biden administration to take a more proactive stance on ushering those at-risk out of the country.

Several veterans inside Kraken-Skulls in Fayetteville, including Jazlynn Bennett, spoke to ABC11 about the value of SIVs and their frustrations with the handling of the withdrawal in Afghanistan.

"Everywhere we went, they had to assist me in everything," Bennett said of the SIV recipients. "Every translation -- I couldn't do my job if it wasn't for them. They were with me 24/7. These guys actually saved my life a few times, too so they're very, very important. And I'm trying everything I can to get them out, but there's only so much I can do."

WATCH: Veterans react to Afghans left behind

Veterans, like Jazlynn Bennett, agonize about Special Immigrant Visa (SIV) recipients and their families being unable to get out.

After President Joe Biden announced plans to withdraw, Afghanistan swiftly fell to the Taliban. The US was forced to send troops back in to assist with evacuation efforts. Last week, a suicide bomber killed 13 American troops in Kabul -- the first American service members killed in the country since February 2020.

"I think the Biden administration definitely could have handled it a lot better," Bennett said. "I don't think they went about it tactically, I don't think they went about it strategically. The way they did it, it's just devastation all around. The first thing I thought of is that we just devastated everybody and everything that we fought for 20 years. How many people of our US military went over there fighting, lost their lives, only for us to pull out like this?"

Another veteran, identified only as Chad, also expressed his frustration with Biden's handling of the situation.

"The Taliban occupied and secured all those weapons, and they took them back from the government because they can," he said. "I feel for everybody who was pro-military and pro-government because they will be hunted."

WATCH: Biden addresses nation Tuesday on Afghanistan pullout

President Joe Biden vigorously defended his decision to end America's longest war and withdraw all U.S. troops ahead of an Aug. 31 deadline.

Veteran Ryan Oldenburg added that in his opinion, "Bagram should have been closed last. It would have helped a lot with evacuation."

Chaotic scenes at the airport in Kabul, coupled with the takeover of the Taliban, represented a potentially triggering moment for veterans who engaged in combat.

"The scenes in Afghanistan right now are devastating," Bennett said. "What I see on TV, what I hear from my guys that are still over there -- civilian military, the ones that are getting back, the ones that are trying to get back, and I still have SIVs begging me to do anything that I can to get them out of Afghanistan, into Kabul, and then out of Kabul."

The messy end to the war has put a spotlight on military mental health.

Bennett is one of many veterans who suffers from PTSD

"With this all coming up again, it just brings it all the way back. It just brings me all the way back to the beginning," Bennett said.

In Fayetteville, veterans talked about the importance of mental-health resources for service members.


"I think getting rid of that stigma for asking for help is the first step," Oldenburg said. "You can check on your buddy all day, but if he's going to lie to you, it's just knowing those signs. Reaching out, and being consistent. We've all struggled and we've all had issues, but as long as you have purpose, and you can reflect on what you've done."

Another veteran suggested that the VA hire more doctors to handle caseloads and hoped that mental-health resources would also be provided to Afghans coming to the country on SIVs.

"They need to seek some kind of help on it," Chad said. "Everybody deals with the stress differently. It's all about finding a coping mechanism to deal with your PTSD. My biggest concern from people dealing with PTSD is that I feel that you have potential to have an increased number of suicides, of veteran suicides and there are programs out there, local in Fayetteville, that are trying to combat PTSD aspect when it comes to veteran suicide."

Bennett agreed with that assessment.

"If we can get more doctors, more programs - make it more where mental health isn't, seeking help for PTSD isn't going to be a stigma to your military career. It's not going to end it. It's not going to delay it," Bennett said. "When you get the help that you need, it does help."