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Afghanistan troop pullout weighs heavy on Mid-South veterans

Published: Aug. 31, 2021 at 5:53 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 1, 2021 at 4:36 AM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan has left veterans in the Mid-South with a feeling of uncertainty.

“I think the biggest thing is the anxiety, having the mental depression and thinking, ‘well, was my service worthwhile? Was it an impact?’” said Retired U.S. Army Col. Mike Caldwell.

Caldwell served two tours during the War on Terror, Iraq in 2003-2004 and Afghanistan in 2008-2009, though his military service career goes beyond those two tours.

Caldwell said the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from Kabul was a feat in its own right, but parts of the pullout has left him puzzled.

“We’re leaving all of this equipment, materials, and everything else to a terrorist organization, whatever they want to be called, and it doesn’t make sense,” said Caldwell. “That’s what really hurts the most.”

While watching the national coverage of what’s transpired over the last few weeks, he’s been left with the thought of the men and women who paid the ultimate sacrifice during this 20-year conflict, as well as their Blue Star families.

“There wasn’t a clear, decisive plan and what the meaning of all this was,” Caldwell said. “Regardless of what administration had control over this, it was still not a clearly thought-out plan.”

“It’s a really difficult time for our veterans right now,” said Dr. Sarah Ramsey.

Ramsey is a clinical psychologist with the Memphis VA’s PTSD Clinic.

She says there has been an influx of patients coming in for treatment.

Some are patients who may have received treatment months, if not years ago, and some are first-time patients almost all coming in because of what has been happening in Afghanistan.

Ramsey estimates over half of the veterans in the Mid-South are from the War on Terror and says the troop pullout has acted as a mental trigger for many.

“[Triggers] kind of just brings those memories back like it was yesterday,” Ramsey said. “These memories are very vivid and are easily accessible at the drop of a hat, sometimes unprompted. Something like this absolutely can just wreak havoc on an individual’s ability to navigate their day-to-day life effectively.”

Despite the increase in patients, Ramsey says the VA is still able to offer same-day appointments to veterans seeking mental help, as well as other needs for those who served.

“Our Returning Veterans Clinic specifically provides services to our OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom), OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom), and OND (Operation New Dawn) because we are finding that more and more individuals are requiring not only mental health services but just a wide variety of services,” Ramsey said.

Meanwhile, Caldwell and his circle at the Collierville VFW Post are establishing a weekly counselling session for vets in the area who need an outlet for their frustration.

The Memphis VA has a veterans crisis line that provides 24/7 service to veterans seeking immediate assistance. That number is 1-800-273-8255, and vets can press 1 to speak with a provider.

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