Rob Howley has "gone through hell" since being suspended for an alleged breach of World Rugby betting rules, says former Wales coach Warren Gatland.
Ex-Wales backs coach Howley was sent home before the World Cup in Japan and is awaiting the outcome of a Welsh Rugby Union investigation.
Gatland says Howley did nothing illegal and missing the World Cup was the absolute punishment.
"He's felt he's let a lot of people down," said Gatland.
Speaking to the Rugby Union Weekly podcast, Gatland added: "I spoke to him a couple of days ago and during the World Cup.
"It's been the hardest six or seven weeks of his life, he's been emotionally through absolute hell and there's an investigation that's been going on."
Gatland stepped down after 12 years in charge of Wales at the end of the tournament in Japan, when Howley's contract was also due to end.
The pair have had a 17-year association at Wasps and Wales, with Gatland saying the incident has had a big effect on the former Wales scrum-half.
"Hopefully in the next couple of weeks there'll be a result from that, but I know emotionally it's been incredibly tough on himself and his family and he's been so apologetic," said Gatland.
"He's been through a hell of a lot emotionally and it's been tough. The biggest punishment so far for him is he's missed out on being involved in the World Cup.
"It's important in the rugby community we do what we can in terms of supporting as much as possible."
Eddie Jones - the friendly rival
In Howley's absence, Gatland led Wales to the semi-finals where they were beaten 19-16 by eventual winners South Africa, who defeated England 32-12 in the final.
Gatland caused controversy after England beat New Zealand in the last four by questioning whether Eddie Jones' side could reproduce that form against the Springboks.
Jones responded by telling Gatland to enjoy the third-place play-off which Wales eventually lost to the All Blacks.
Gatland insisted there was no bad blood between the pair.
"I thought England were magnificent in that semi-final against the All Blacks and that was one of the best performances I've seen for a long time," he said.
"They just didn't, for whatever reason, turn up for the final.
"They just weren't quite at their peak and I can understand that and it didn't happen for them on the day.
"I made some comments after our semi-final and I got criticised, but I wasn't actually talking about England, I was talking about my own rugby experiences in the past with Wasps and the Lions.
"Eddie would not have heard my response to when I was asked that question in the press conference after our semi-final game and I was just reflecting back on some of my experiences."
Gatland says he has a good relationship with Jones after some verbal jousting over the years.
"It's just a game and Eddie understands that," said Gatland.
"It's kind of like water off a ducks back nowadays.
"There were times when he threw a few hand grenades out there and at times Eddie does get criticism.
"There's also times when he's smart in the way he takes some of the pressure off the players and brings it on himself.
"It's just a bit of banter and people get caught up in it and stuff and we have a laugh and a joke about it afterwards.
"People think we dislike each other, if you put us in a room by ourselves we'd be punching the hell out of each other, but it's not like that at all."
'I could have ended up in France'
Gatland will return to New Zealand to coach the Chiefs in Super Rugby next year and also the British and Irish Lions on the tour of South Africa in 2021.
He says he never had a serious conversation about becoming England coach, but revealed he could have taken over at France where ex-Wales defence coach Shaun Edwards is heading.
"They are an untapped giant and I had some conversations with Bernard Laporte about potentially going there after my Wales contract," said Gatland.
"It didn't get voted because the amateur clubs had to agree to a foreign coach and it didn't get a majority through.
"I think only about half the clubs voted, so I probably could have ended up in France."