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Report: VA suicide hotline received 35,000+ calls during US withdrawal from Afghanistan

Image for military suicide awareness. (U.S. Air Force illustration by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)
September 02, 2021

The Department of Veterans Affairs suicide hotline received more than 35,000 calls during the two-week period between the fall of the U.S.-backed Afghan government and the withdrawal of the last U.S. troops in Afghanistan, a new report revealed this week.

Veterans placed more than 35,000 calls to the Veterans Crisis Line between August 13 and 29, according to VA data provided to the Washington Examiner. Those dates encompass the days before Kabul fell under Taliban control and the day before the final U.S. military flight out of Hamid Karzai International Airport marked an end to the nearly 20-year military mission in the country.

According to the data provided to the Washington Examiner, there were approximately 2,300 more calls to the VA hotline during the two-week period than there were during the same period of time last year. That number represents an approximately seven percent increase in the call volume to the VA hotline during the time frame.

There was an average of 2,060 calls to the hotline per day between August 13 and 29. The busiest day was on August 16, when 2,570 calls came in to the suicide hotline. August 16 was the day after military helicopters evacuated U.S. diplomats from the embassy in Kabul. News footage from that day showed Afghan civilians crowding around U.S. military flights on an active runway and at least two people falling to their deaths after clinging to the side of an Air Force C-17 transport plane, desperate for a way out of Afghanistan.

Footage out of Afghanistan over the last two weeks has also shown Taliban fighters parading around in captured U.S.-donated Humvees, wearing western-style tactical gear and even mocking the iconic photo of U.S. Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima.

During the evacuation efforts, 13 U.S. service members were killed in a suicide bombing and another 18 U.S. service members were injured.

Concerns that U.S. citizens and Afghan allies would also be left behind were also common throughout the evacuation effort and those concerns were realized when President Joe Biden admitted that up to 200 Americans were still stranded in Afghanistan after the last U.S. military flight out of Kabul.

Lt. Col Stuart Scheller, a Marine officer who went viral for criticizing the handling of the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, said “Potentially all of those people died in vain if we don’t have senior military leaders who own up and raise their hand and say, ‘We did not do this well in the end.’”

Scheller subsequently said accountability from military leaders would “would alleviate feelings of guilt or shame in service members more than individual counseling. It would save thousands of lives.”

Suicide rates among the military and veteran community have been on the rise in recent years. There were 377 active-duty service members who died by suicide in 2020, up from 348 the year before, according to the Department of Defense’s final quarterly suicide report for 2020.

September is Suicide Awareness Month. On Wednesday, the VA tweeted about their suicide prevention campaign throughout September.