AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Austin Vet Center said it’s seeing an increase in calls from Afghanistan war veterans as the Taliban’s grip tightens.
“It’s anecdotal, but we’ve certainly had an uptick in calls from our Afghan vets,” said Director Jane Olien.
She said the news has triggered veterans of other wars, too.
“The Vietnam vets talking about what they’re seeing and how they feel, compared to what they felt 50 years ago; the sadness, the loss, the feeling of anger — kind of all the feelings that are normal,” she said.
That resonates with Austin Talley, who normally finds joy as operations director of Whiskey, Tango, Foxtrot.
“I’ve created a cultural center, and it’s my way of happiness,” he said. “And if other people, customers, get to participate and enjoy it as much as I do, then I feel like I’m winning, no matter what.”
But he said this week has been tough.
“Nearly break down and cry about three different times,” said Talley, who has served in the U.S. Armed Forces for 18 years — eight in Afghanistan.
“You realize war is a matter of seconds. You’re a second too slow, you’re killed. You’re a second too fast, you’re killed. You’re an inch to your right, you’re killed, you’re an inch to the left, you’re killed,” said Talley. “So why did I — why was I spared?”
His sadness turned to anger.
“The sacrifice isn’t just putting your name on the dotted line, willing to die for the defense of your nation,” Talley said. “The sacrifice is missing out on everyday life.”
Talley said he lost relationships with friends, family and even his marriage, as he tried to reintegrate into civilian society.
He said he’s now managed to turn that anger into motivation. He’s using his international contacts to help Americans and allies in Afghanistan find safe havens.
“And I’m deadly when I’m motivated. Just like my fellow veterans, you give us a purpose, you give us a mission, you give us a task, we’re going to complete it at all costs,” he said.
Talley has been posting ways civilians can help, too, on his Facebook page.
Olien said it’s important for people to check on veterans they know.
“There’s not enough VA employees, there’s not enough counselors out there to touch every Afghan vet or Iraq vet or Vietnam vet,” she said. “So, we need to really build that support system in the community.”
She said the biggest message right now is validation.
“What you did, what you gave for this country… it wasn’t for nothing,” Olien said. “It’s very valid, and we are here to support that.”
The VA’s annual report revealed veterans suicides were one and a half times the rate of the general population.
Earlier this summer, the Costs of War Project out of Brown University released a report, indicating that rate was conservative. It estimated more than 30,000 veterans of the Global War on Terror have died by suicide.
That would be more than four times the number of those who died while deployed. They said that is higher than the military’s own tracking.
Here are some resources for you or any veteran you know who may need help during this time:
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs crisis line: (800) 273-8255
- Austin Vet Center: (512) 416-1314
- Hays County Veteran Services: (512) 392-8387