Local resources to assist veterans and refugees affected by Afghanistan crisis

Tom Baker 

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     The mass evacuation from the Kabul airport in Afghanistan officially ended on Aug. 31, creating a new humanitarian crisis while 122,000 Afghani refugees attempt to start a new life in foreign countries. 

     The Taliban’s re-establishment of power upended the lives of refugees, but students and veterans have felt the effects at UCCS and in the surrounding community. Plenty of resources remain available for students who have been affected, as well as opportunities to assist the refugees’ integration into the community. 

     On Aug. 18, Gov. Jared Polis sent a letter to President Biden stating that Colorado is ready to provide safety and opportunity to the refugees, and he encouraged Biden not to let “bureaucratic processes stand in the way of rescue.” 

     Close to 50,000 refugees are estimated to settle in the U.S., according to the Associated Press. Upwards of 2,000 refugees are expected to be located in Colorado, with 173 refugees currently settled in Colorado from Afghanistan, according to the Denver Post

     Matt Regovic is a nursing student at UCCS and a Marine infantry veteran. He spoke of the emotions felt by himself and the veteran community following the withdrawal and recent attack at the Kabul airport, which killed 13 service members four days before the evacuations ended. 

     Regovic’s sister unit in the Marines took most of the casualties in the attack. 

     “It really hit home for all of us,” Regovic said. “It really impacted all of us because [when] it happened we didn’t know names, and I know people over there, so I was like ‘I hope one of my friend’s names doesn’t pop up or anything.’” 

     Regovic also expressed his frustrations at the response of leaders to the withdrawal. “The people that made those decisions aren’t taking extreme ownership for what happened. And instead of taking ownership and responsibility, they’re pointing fingers at other people.” 

     All students whom the recent events have impacted are encouraged to visit the Wellness Center, where free counseling is available to student-veterans.   

     “We actually have a grant that helps the Veteran and Military Affairs Department pay for seven wellness visits [per veteran] to our campus wellness center for counseling every academic year,” said Lisa Buckman, director of the Veteran and Military Affairs office. 

     “Our Wellness Center on campus has counselors, and if you’re on campus, go see them. Let them know you’re a veteran, and they bill us, and we pay for it.” 

     The grant does not extend to non-veterans, but all military-affiliated people are encouraged to visit the Mount Caramel Veterans Service Center located in southern Colorado Springs. Buckman was the partner development director at Mt. Carmel before taking over as director of the Veteran and Military Affairs office at UCCS. 

     “They have a whole counseling center, and they do sliding-scale, but they never refuse.” Buckman said. “They see anybody who has a military connection.” 

     Students looking for information on help for refugees can contact the Lutheran Family Services Rocky Mountains or the International Rescue Committee in Denver. Both provide opportunities to donate money, physical goods and time to help integrate refugees into American society. 

     As of Sept. 19, the Taliban has fully reestablished control of Afghanistan, now strengthened with upwards of $24 billion worth of equipment left behind by the retreating Afghani forces, according to the Wall Street Journal.  

     According to Brookings Institute, the U.S., other foreign governments and some private groups facilitated the evacuation of more than 122,000 refugees from Afghanistan. 

     As of Sept. 10, 24,000 have already arrived in the U.S., 23,000 are on U.S. military bases abroad, and 20,000 are waiting in other countries, according to the Wall Street Journal. All refugees must undergo a rigorous vetting process, including those who received a Special Immigrant Visa for their work with U.S. forces in Afghanistan. 

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