A group of bipartisan lawmakers are calling on the Department of Veterans Affairs to quickly connect Afghanistan veterans with mental health services following the chaotic withdrawal of US troops from the war-torn nation, which saw 13 US service members killed last week.
The group, made up of 34 bipartisan senators, sent their request to Denis McDonough, the Secretary of Veterans Affairs, on Tuesday, the deadline of the withdrawal.
“More than two million veterans served during the Global War on Terrorism, including more than 800,000 in Afghanistan, and these service members deserve and earned the support that they need,” the lawmakers wrote.
“We appreciate the VA’s commitment to providing mental health services to all veterans and ask, in light of the current situation, that the Department accelerate its efforts to provide resources — to veterans of these recent conflicts.”
Led by Sens. Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Joni Ernst (R-IA), the group of senators asked the VA to “quickly develop a comprehensive outreach plan,” to help veterans who served in Afghanistan.
In the letter, the senators acknowledged that the VA had sent out digital links to veterans “encouraging them to seek help if they are experiencing distress related to their service in Afghanistan.”
However, the lawmakers urged the VA to go further, citing that veterans aged 18-34 have the highest suicide rate among service members while the department’s veteran suicide prevention annual report has indicated that “veterans, including those who served in Afghanistan, do not use veterans health administration services aimed at decreasing suicidal ideation and suicide attempts.”
The senators suggested the VA proactively contact veterans in the coming months through digital correspondence, social media, phone calls, text messages and more.
“As a country, we must keep the physical and mental wellbeing of our veterans at the forefront of our minds and efforts,” they wrote, later adding, “We must fulfill our obligation to those who served and never forget their sacrifices.”
The bipartisan letter comes after the US removed all remaining troops in Afghanistan, ending America’s longest war that lasted 19 years and 47 weeks, cost some $2 trillion and took the lives of roughly 2,500 US troops and about 240,000 Afghans.
Amid the withdrawal, Afghanistan was taken over by the Taliban, prompting thousands of Americans and Afghan allies to flee the country.
US troops helped evacuate 79,000 civilians on US military aircraft since Aug. 14 — including 6,000 Americans and 73,500 Afghans and third-country citizens, according to US officials.
Evacuation efforts were briefly halted last Thursday when an ISIS-K suicide bomb attack shook the Kabul airport, killing 13 US service members and nearly 200 Afghans. Evacuation flights resumed Friday morning.
Several hundred Americans remain in the embattled country following the withdrawal, according to the Pentagon.
“VA received the letter from congressional leadership and is in the process of responding,” VA Press Secretary Terrence Hayes told The Post.