Calls to NI charity treble as Afghanistan veterans are retraumatised

A leading veterans mental health charity says that calls for help from Northern Ireland ex-service personnel have trebled since the crisis in Afghanistan hit headlines three weeks ago.

Thursday, 26th August 2021, 5:33 pm
Updated Friday, 27th August 2021, 10:11 am
UK armed forces continue to take part in the evacuation of entitled personnel from Kabul airport this week. Photo: PA

Veteran Robert McCartney - who himself overcame post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and is now chairman of Ards-based charity Beyond the Battlefield, says media reports of the Taliban retaking Afghanistan are devastating some veterans.

“A lot of them are going back to the incidents that they were involved in while serving in Afghanistan,” he told the News Letter. “And they are also going back to the friends that they lost, which is probably even more traumatic than what they went through themselves.

“And they are starting to think - ‘Well, what was it all for? Why was my mate so badly injured or killed? There is a lot of survivor’s guilt coming in. “I am here, the war is over - we didn’t achieve anything. And yet my best friends are in the ground or else they have lost their legs or have brain injuries.

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“The Taliban seem to be looking for reprisals and the only place they can go to for that is the people our soldiers were protecting - the normal farmers and civilians who just wanted a normal life.”

The veterans had taken satisfaction from seeing schools opening and people free to run businesses and live without burqas, he said.

“But a lot of them have lost their own families through divorce and separation because of mental health injuries they sustained. Yet the government is just moving on as normal. They thought they were leaving a stable country.”

He has noticed calls for help have trebled in the past three weeks. The number of people walking in off the street for help has doubled. They are getting 15-20 calls a day and have a waiting list stretching out six weeks. Normally it is just two weeks long.

One Afghanistan veteran walked into their office yesterday and said he tried to take his life the night before. “His dog stopped him by nudging him on the leg and brought him to his senses. He got two trains and a bus to see us today. He told us: ‘I didn’t want to phone for an appointment because I knew I would not have got one. But I had to be here today’.”

Robert says all NI service personnel went to Afghanistan - at least 30,000 people. H estimates 16% will be suffering PTSD symptoms as a result of events this month, at leat 4% of which will be severe cases.

“That means 300-360 extra cases of people seeking help due to the Afghanistan situation.”

He says that almost 60 veterans from NI have taken their own lives since they returned. “I have a meeting with the health minister early next month - he is obviously taking it all seriously,” he added.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson recently read out the names in Parliament of all service personnel from Northern Ireland who died in Afghanistan. They were, Channing Day, a young woman from Comber in County Down; David Dalzell, 20 years old, from Bangor in County Down; Aaron McCormick, 22 years old, from Macosquin in County Londonderry; Stephen McKee, 27 years old, from Banbridge in County Down; Nigel Moffett, 29 years old, from Belfast; David Patton, 38, from Aghadowey in County Antrim; Neal Turkington, 26, from Craigavon in County Armagh, Stephen Walker, from Lisburn, 42 years old, and Captain Mark Hale, 42 years old, from Dromara in County Down.

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