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Vietnam veteran comforts Afghanistan vets experiencing mental health challenges as U.S. withdraws

The two-decade war has triggered a rollercoaster of emotions for Tony Roman, who fought as a Marine in Vietnam. He's now helping American troops in hardship.

SAN ANTONIO — The U.S.’s withdrawal from Taliban-governed Afghanistan after 20 years has challenged the mental health of military veterans who’ve served in the war.

The past and present of America’s two-decade conflict in Afghanistan comes with a wave of emotions being felt by veterans from multiple wars.

“I don’t want them to feel guilty. It was not their fault. They did their job,” said Tony Roman, a Purple Heart Vietnam veteran who lives in San Antonio.

During Roman’s time in the Marines, Roman witnessed the horrors of war and a political divide that followed him back home to San Antonio.

Roman reflects on the fall of Saigon and the U.S.’s departure from the country. 

“We fought two wars: one over there, one over here,” Roman said.

Roman serves as the Texas Chief of Staff for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, an organization that helps provide veterans education and employment opportunities in addition to mental health services.

“I tell the Afghanistan warriors that are calling me and they’re disappointed, angry what’s going on and I tell them I can relate.” Roman said.

He noted while the Department of Veteran Affairs offers a variety of mental health services, the best therapy is talking with fellow veterans who’ve gone through similar experiences.

Over the past couple weeks, Ramon has talked with several Afghanistan veterans expressing their doubts and concerns regarding their time in the war.

“I reassure them, and I tell them you can call me anytime you want to, midnight or whatever, I’ll go wherever you’re at, we’ll sit down and drink coffee, we’ll tell war stories, get it out of our system and be proud of your service,” Ramon said.

The events in Afghanistan have caused grief for veterans and their families.

Non-profit organizations such as Soldiers’ Angels, are working around the clock to assist veterans in distress.

“We had a suicide of one who returned home 8 years ago and this just really kind of brought a lot of emotions to light and things he thought he had dealt with,” said Amy Palmer, president and CEO of Soldiers’ Angels.

Palmer stressed the importance of helping veterans and providing them the proper resources, especially during the current climate of U.S.’s pulling out of Afghanistan.

 “We provide free telecounseling, telepsychiatry services to them 24/7 and the usage of that program has gone way up in the last couple of weeks, so we know the services are needed.”

The mental health challenges of war continue to be a never-ending battle.

 “We’re working really hard to get them something immediately and then look at long term solutions and regular care for them,” Palmer said.

The San Antonio Coalition for Veterans is another organization on standby to help veterans at a moments notice. 

The Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 for those needing someone to talk to. The number is 1-800-273-8255.