CHICAGO - This weekend marks 20 years since the September 11th attacks in New York City.
Those attacks were the reason hundreds of thousands of US military men and women have been deployed to Afghanistan for the last two decades.
While the United States’ withdrawal from Afghanistan was hard to watch for many of us, it was especially hard for those who served there.
"It’s been tough. It’s been really tough to sit there and watch where I was stationed at … and all the work that we’ve done," said Ashton Kroner.
Kroner is a retired Marine who lives in Crystal Lake. She says she knew from the time she was 7-years-old that she wanted to join the military.
"It wasn’t until 9/11 that really kinda set it in stone for," Kroner said. "I told my mom I’m gonna serve my country."
That she did for eight years, which included being stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
"Seeing what’s happening in the news is frustrating. It’s bringing up a lot of emotions," Kroner said. "A lot of the veterans that I work with, they’re reaching out asking for help."
Kroner is an outreach coordinator for the Road Home Program at Rush University Medical Center.
"I’m having veterans reach out to me. Talking to me about their experiences and how they are looking for help," Kroner said. "I think we are only seeing the beginning of people reaching out for help."
With Ariel — her service dog by her side — Kroner helps get the word out about this unique program. She knows firsthand just how difficult it can be for a soldier to ask for help when returning home from war.
"It was a struggle because I thought that I was weak. But I realize now that was the strongest thing I could have done for myself," Kroner said. "Weak is not getting help."
Even though she has completed her treatment for PTSD, it can still be triggered by certain sights and sounds — especially now.
"There are some days I’m pretty challenged," Kroner said. "It’s tough emotionally to sit there and watch any of those images."
While watching the US withdrawal from Afghanistan can be upsetting for those who served there, it can also be upsetting for their families too.
"Things like access to couples therapy, family therapy, therapy for kids, therapy for family members. Those things are very hard to come by," said Dr. Brian Klassen.
Dr. Klassen is the clinical director for Rush's Road Home Program.
"I think the reason the program started is pretty simple. It’s that the need is there and it wasn’t being met by the things that were already in place," Klassen said.
Since it began in 2014, Rush's Road Home Program has helped approximately 5,000 veterans and their families.
Given how the US withdrawal from Afghanistan took place, both Kroner and Klassen expect they will see more veterans and their families reaching out for help.
"I think across the table when it comes to all the veteran programs, they are starting to see an influx. Last week there was a lot of shock going on," Kroner said.
What is important to note is that Rush's Road Home Program is free of charge to any veteran, and their family, regardless of the veteran's discharge status.
For information on other veterans programs, see below:
The Road Home at Rush Medical Center
Warrior Care Network
Department of Veterans Affairs