A moral injury for America’s veterans
Retired Lieutenant Colonel Scott Mann hopes his new book, 'Operation Pineapple Express,' will help fellow veterans
It’s been 21 years since Sept. 11, 2001 and the terrorist attacks that launched a generation of troops into combat. New numbers from the US military show the staggering cost — 30,177 active duty and military veterans have died by suicide since then. That’s four times as many deaths as those killed in action during the same period, according to the latest Pentagon statistics.
In a recent survey by the Brookings Institution, 73% of veterans who fought in Afghanistan say they feel betrayed by the withdrawal from Afghanistan and how the war ended, leading to an uptick in calls to veteran suicide hotlines, according to veteran advocates.
Ret. Lt. Col. Scott Mann, a former Green Beret who helped rescue this Afghan commando who he fought alongside and 1,000 other Afghans after Kabul fell to the Taliban in August 2021, authored a new book, "Operation Pineapple Express," about what he and other veterans did to help.
Mann says the military could be at the beginning — not end — of a suicide spike and that one reason is that many veterans view the Afghan pullout and the way it was handled as a "moral stain."
"You add all of that moral injury on top of what were already a lot of effects from this longest war. And I really think we're about to see we're on the front end of a tsunami, of mental health. I think for the post-9-11 generation," Mann told Fox News.
"It was just one of the most difficult things that I've ever seen in my life. It was so disarming to see that. And it really brought up a lot of questions. I thought about the friends that I've lost. I fielded at least two or three calls from Gold Star family members that day (when Kabul fell) asking what was the point? It was just devastating."
Scenes at the airport in Kabul where the Taliban took over quickly, as the US military was forced to scramble, served as a trigger for an uptick in calls to veteran suicide hotlines.
"It was devastating to watch 20 years of work and bloodshed in a war that we gave our youth to — and a lot of people gave more than that — to just see it handed back to the very organization that had started the whole thing," Mann said, referring to the Taliban.
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Scenes of Afghans so desperate that they threw babies over the barbed wire fence at Kabul airport for US Marines to catch served as triggers for some.
Kyle Lingafelt, a Marine captain and artillery officer from 2010 to 2021, deployed twice to Afghanistan ,where he served as the small team leader and tactics adviser to the Afghan National Civil Order Police.
Post-collapse, Lingafelt has experienced at least two instances of mental health crises leading him to reach out to The Independence Fund for resources and support.
"It was like a devastating blow to the gut. I know I felt like I was okay at first, and then I think within a couple of days it really hit me hard. I personally went into a pretty big depression," Lingafelt said.
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He now runs a brewery in North Carolina and became emotional describing the pullout. He admits he has called veteran suicide hotlines since the withdrawal.
"It's just tough all around. You know, on everybody. Having spent that much time there and putting that much effort into something … You deploy multiple times, you go through things, you get friends to get injured, you have troops, you get injured, you have troops that you lose, friends that you lose, friends that you lose afterwards."
Wall Steet Journal reporter Ben Kesling has a new book about Bravo Company, one of the hardest hit units that served in Afghanistan. "Bravo Company" follows the troops from the 82nd Airborne's 2-508 Parachute Infantry Regiment home: half received Purple Hearts, two of the soldiers have died by suicide, more than a dozen have tried, since leaving Afghanistan in 2010.
"A lot of those guys spent their entire careers in Iraq and Afghanistan or even just Afghanistan. And they wondered what was all this deployment for? What were all the injuries for? There was an uptick in people needing to talk to mental health professionals," Kesling told Fox.
Taking care of fellow veterans has become a mission for some.
Dr. Grant Campbell was a trauma surgeon in Afghanistan. Campbell learned of the shortage of surgically trained physicians post 9/11 and entered the US Army Reserve. Since Afghanistan collapsed to rule of the Taliban, he has supported his battle buddies as they face mental health crisis.
"A lot of us in the veteran community felt like that it was just a dismissive swipe away of 20 years of investment of blood and sweat," Campbell says of the withdrawal. "My obligation now is to take care of my guys. And that means from making sure they're getting what they need, but then also making sure that I'm looking out for their mental well-being," Campbell told Fox.
Cole Lyle, a former Marine is now the executive director of Mission Roll Call, an advocacy group standing up for veterans. After a mental health crisis in 2014, Lyle found fulfillment in helping fellow veterans deal with post-traumatic stress and other health conditions. He told Fox, "I think we need to look further upstream and catch those veterans before they get to the point where they need mental health help, or before they're in crisis and need to call the veteran crisis line."
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The Department of Veterans Affairs told Fox News,"In the aftermath of the war in Afghanistan, VA has reached out to every Veteran in our network with one message: we are here for you."
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