By KATHERINE SELBER AND WILL SELBER: Complete Post through this link…
On Aug. 31, 2021, the last American plane departed Hamid Karzai International Airport in Kabul, bringing America’s latest, longest war to an ignominious end. Since that day, Afghanistan has quickly faded from America’s rearview mirror. Over the last 20 years, the United States spent two trillion dollars and lost 2,439 servicemembers there. 3,500 military widows were left without their spouses, 6,000 children without at least one parent, and 14,000 parents without their sons or daughters. But despite this grim toll, the United States has only just begun to bear the brunt of its two-decade-long war. In fact, for countless Afghanistan veterans, the trauma from the war continues unabated.
The fall of Afghanistan, specifically the chaotic nature of the noncombatant evacuation operations and the abandonment of tens of thousands of Afghan allies, left thousands of Afghanistan veterans to face an old but largely forgotten mental health condition: moral injury. This diagnosis refers to the damage done to a person’s conscience when witnessing or participating in an event that violates their moral or ethical code. And it is currently wreaking havoc on America’s Afghanistan veterans. If steps are not taken to address this problem, the result will be a disgruntled veteran population more prone to mental health problems, substance abuse, incarceration, and radicalization.
The three elements of a more effective response are simple but difficult. First, there should be more research and funding for moral injury. Second, the American government and the Department of Defense should be more candid in acknowledging the failure of America’s war in Afghanistan and in addressing the plight of Afghan allies still at risk. Third, the Department of Defense should provide institutional heft by encouraging the creation of structured spaces, like commander’s calls or down days, in which veterans, active-duty personnel, and others can discuss the war, its ending, and its consequences. Senior military leaders can lead the way by discussing these topics virtually in order to help lower-echelon commanders follow in their footsteps.