Hampton Roads supporting veterans in wake of Afghanistan withdrawal, 9/11

Posted at 5:59 PM, Sep 02, 2021

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - With the war in Afghanistan ending and the anniversary of 9/11 around the corner, many veterans and service members are looking for more mental health support.

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at The Up Center in Virginia Beach said they have seen call volume and client referrals increase over the past few weeks.

As News 3 reporter Erin Miller learned, in addition to their services, there's an entire community willing to step up and help.

Tucked away in Elizabeth City, you'll find a front yard adorned with red, white and blue American flags.

"[There are] 13 flags for 13 troops who have fallen," said 11th grader Reagan Charlton. "I set up a little memorial. It was the least I could do to show my respect."

Charlton put emotion to action as the country continues to mourn the loss of the 13 Americans killed in Afghanistan.

"These troops are fallen heroes and they need to be recognized," Charlton said.

As the U.S. recognizes their sacrifices, many local service members feel their sacrifices.

"Because of their involvement, their personal involvement, these events have been really difficult to watch," said lead clinician at the Cohen Clinic at the Up Center Sarah Pitzen. "It's the beginning of a journey - a long journey as they cope with the emotions and experiences from the last 20 years."

The center, which has been open since 2019, provides mental health services to post 9/11 veterans, active duty service members and military families.

Pitzen said the events in Afghanistan coupled with the anniversary of 9/11 have weighed heavy on a lot of veterans. It's something that the center anticipated.

"People are calling us for the first time for help, because it's a lot to unpack in a very short amount of time," she said. "It's important to know that while the war has ended, technically, this is not over for many of our veterans."

The Department of Veteran Affairs' Veterans Crisis Line is also reporting an increase of people reaching out for help. It reports text message volume is up 83%, chat messages are up 40% and phone calls are up 6% since August 13.

"As images that we're watching on the news unfold and conjure up memories of past experiences and relationships, it's important to remember to validate and support our fellow veterans and service members," Pitzen said.

The center said to validate feelings and encourage veterans to unplug for a bit. The Cohen Veterans Network put together an online resource page so veterans don't feel as alone.

Pitzen said, "A huge priority of ours is access to care. And so we want to make sure that people know to reach out for help. Just being a helper in this time, being an advocate, those are things I think that any one of us can do."

An advocate, just as Charlton is.

"Those troops were heroes - they died heroes; they were always a hero, and they need to be recognized," Charlton said.

If you or someone you know is struggling, you can call the Veterans Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

The Steven A. Cohen Military Family Clinic at the Up Center is taking new clients - in person, via tele-help or over the phone - if you're interested in speaking to someone local.