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  HOME | World (Click here for more)

Unreliable State Support Means Disabled Afghan Army Veterans Struggle to Cope

KABUL – War veteran Rafiullah Khan, 32, closed down his rickety roadside shop on Wednesday after seeing very few customers, and headed home to his family.

The former soldier has been working in the shop since he lost his legs two years ago in a blast from a landmine placed by the Taliban.

On most days, Rafiullah returns home to his family without earning anything.

He is one of the 1,743 Afghan army veterans who were left disabled between 2003-2017, according to Defense Ministry data, but that number of victims pales in comparison to the tens of thousands of people severely wounded during four decades of war.

“I was going up along the center of a road towards our elevated guard post when I stepped on an enemy mine and I felt a strong jolt. On opening my eyes, I was in a military hospital,” the ex-soldier told EFE.

The wounds on the lower part of his left leg were severe while there was less damage on the right; so Rafiullah was transferred to the main military hospital in Kabul with the hope that one of his legs could be saved.

“I consented to having my left leg amputated, but after the operation when I opened my eyes I saw that both my legs had been cut off,” he rued, complaining that the doctors hadn’t made enough effort.

The ordeal permanently dashed his hopes of becoming a “high ranking official.”

After he returned to his native city of Asadabad – capital of eastern Kunar province – Rafiullah found a job repairing power generators and working up to 10 hours a day for about $72 a month, with which he has supported himself, his wife and five children.

The veteran is not the only member of his family to have fallen victim to the war.

His elder brother, a policeman, died in an encounter with the Taliban; another brother, who was in the army, died in the southwestern province of Helmand; and his father lost an eye decades ago.

In theory, the Ministry of Defense ought to pay a monthly pension to disabled veterans equal to the last salary withdrawn by them while in the service.

However, two years after the explosion that cost him his legs, Rafiullah has not received his due from the government owing to bureaucratic hurdles, although he claimed he has completed the required forms and gone through the necessary procedures.

“I believe they are toying with me, every time I visit the officials for my pension they say, ‘wait, wait!’ and I have to wait,” he said.

Rafiullah did receive a one-time payment of $3,200 – an entitlement soldiers get in addition to their monthly pension – which he spent on medical treatment and repaying family debts incurred when he was admitted in the hospital.

Defense Ministry spokesperson Muhammad Radmanish told EFE of the benefits enjoyed by disabled veterans: “A one-time payment of $3,000 in cash, a patch of land along with a sum equivalent to some $2,800 to build a house.”

“We give some of them a job in the ministry to empower them and so that they do not feel a burden on society,” he added.

The Soviet occupation in the 1980s, followed by a civil war that raged until the Taliban took over in 1996 and the invasion of the United States and NATO in 2001, have left hundreds of thousands of explosive devices dispersed across Afghanistan.

According to estimates of the Ministry of Labor, Social Affairs, Martyrs and Disabled, 800,000 civilians and members of the security forces were disabled in the country during the several decades of war.

However, only 130,000 of them are registered in the government records and receive a monthly pension, which in many cases is insufficient to cover the basic needs of a family.

 

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