As the situation in Afghanistan continues to unravel following multiple bombings outside of the Kabul airport that resulted in multiple casualties, including the first combat deaths of U.S. service members in 18 months, I express my deepest empathy and eternal gratitude to the family members of the U.S. service members who made the ultimate sacrifice in the service of our nation and defense of our freedoms. My family and I continue to pray for all U.S. troops, citizens, allies, and innocent people whose lives remain at risk in Afghanistan. I also want to take this moment to show appreciation and respect to our veterans and active service members who have served in Afghanistan.

Over the past weeks, we have reached out to and heard from many who are distraught about the current situation in Kabul and questioning their or their loved one’s service. To all those feeling this way, please know your service has been invaluable not only to our nation but also to those around the world. Our American heroes did what they were sent to do: they decimated Al-Qaeda, they eliminated Osama bin Laden, and they kept America and our allies safe for 20 years from another 9/11 event. Each and every one of our soldiers made a difference and must be saluted and thanked — for you all are truly the best of America and should never forget that.

As we all watched the horrific footage be played from the deteriorating situation in Afghanistan, it’s understandable that some veterans may be feeling disheartened. To put in perspective the gravity of this war, the United States has deployed over 2 million troops to the war on terror since 2001 — more than 70,000 of which came from Fort Riley here in Kansas, along with approximately 2,000 reservists from across our state. Starting in 2006, Fort Riley deployed troops to Afghanistan, and had multiple year-long deployments in 2011, 2012, 2013, and again in 2016. Their latest mission was last year when the Apache unit made The Big Red One’s final proud deployment to Afghanistan.

Our American heroes fought valiantly and risked their lives. Unfortunately, over 2,000 American soldiers paid the ultimate sacrifice in the war on terror in Afghanistan. Many of those who returned home endured countless wounds, too many with permanent scars — those we can see and those we can’t see — that put an immense toll on them and their families.

In fact, according to the VA, 15 percent of deployed veterans in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 have been diagnosed with those invisible injuries: PTSD and other mental health disorders. Additionally, veteran suicide rates have risen from 18 veteran suicides per day in 2001, to an estimated 21 per day in 2017.

As a former Army officer, then a physician, and now a U.S. Senator, I too have seen these invisible injuries affecting our service members first hand. Thankfully, the VA has developed programs such as the PTSD Treatment Program, which provides therapy in individual and group settings. Programs like this are great stepping stones for veterans to cope with the trauma of war, and as more treatments come out, the VA must be ready to improve and implement programs so our veterans don’t needlessly suffer after coming home.

The motto of the First Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, the BIG RED 1 — housed in the heart of Kansas — is “No Mission Too Difficult. No Sacrifice Too Great. Duty First!” It is with this fighting attitude that we Kansans need to join forces to make sure each and every one of our veterans, active members, and Gold Star families know that we stand with then and remain forever grateful for their service and sacrifices. I ask anyone reading this to reach out to your friends who are veterans or to our Gold Star Family members to check in on them. This will go a long way to helping them through this difficult time. And I really am hoping and want to personally ask every veteran who served in Afghanistan to call at least two of your buddies you served with and ask them how they are doing.

If you or a veteran you know is in a crisis, please don’t hesitate to call the Veteran’s Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.

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