Veterans Day is Monday November 11, 2013. Many people confuse Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Memorial Day is a day for remembering and honoring military personnel who died in the service of their country, particularly those who died in battle or as a result of wounds sustained in battle. While those who died are also remembered, Veterans Day is the day set aside to thank and honor ALL those who served honorably in the military – in wartime or peacetime. In fact, Veterans Day is largely intended to thank LIVING veterans for their service.
Besides acknowledging and showing appreciation for the contributions of our veterans, we also need to be proactive in insuring that our veterans receive the support and care they have earned as they make the transition to civilian life. Sadly many veterans continue to be affected by the trauma they experienced known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
1 in 5 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are diagnosed with PTSD. The social and economic costs of PTSD are immense. Veterans now account for 20 percent of suicides in the U.S., with the youngest (24 and under) taking their lives at four times the rate for other veteran age groups. We all witnessed the results of untreated mental illness with the tragic shootings that occurred at the Washington Naval Yard especially since the signs that the shooter needed help were not acted upon.
Mental Health Ministries has produced an interfaith Veterans Day resource that can be used as a bulletin insert or flyer. Some of the suggestions of what faith communities can do to support veterans and their families include:
Publically acknowledge members of the congregation who have served or are serving in the military through prayers, listing names in the service bulletin and posting photos of those currently serving.
Send letters care packages and other tokens of support to persons who are deployed.
Support families dealing with the transition of persons leaving for service and returning from service. Faith communities can reach out through phone calls, providing meals, providing child care and, most importantly, providing a listening ear.
Know the signs of distress and reach out when an individual or family is struggling. Children are especially sensitive to signs of stress in the home.
Provide non-judgmental pastoral care and opportunities for veterans to share their story and talk about how their combat experience has affected their faith.
Too often men and women remain silent about their emotional struggles. Only about half of those experiencing mental health problems seek treatment. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder isn’t just limited to those service members in combat roles. Non-combatant jobs in the military, like doctors, nurses, chaplains and other support personnel can also be exposed to traumatic events that put them at risk for developing PTSD.
Toni Lopez is featured in our video, PTSD: Healing and Hope. Toni served for 25 years in the Navy as a physician’s assistant treating both military and civilian casualties at combat field hospitals in Iraq.
While Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a reality for many of our returning service members, things are changing. The military is beginning to encourage people to take their symptoms seriously and to seek help. When treated early, the disabling aspects of PTSD can be treated and need not lead to lifelong problems.
The article, How Faith Communities Can Help Veterans and Their Families Readjust by VA Chaplain, David Lundell, is available on the Mental Health Ministries website.
The Presbyterians for Disability Concerns Network (PDC) has a resource packet, The Wounds of War: The Church as a Healing Community
The National Catholic Partnership on Disability (NCPD) has a wide variety of resources to support returning veterans at http://www.ncpd.org/sites/default/files/Supporting%20returning%20veterans%20update%20Nov.pdf
The NCPD also has resources available from their webinar on veterans at http://www.ncpd.org/webinars/veterans
The Sidran Institute’s Risking Connection® training curriculum series focuses on the healing role that clergy of all denominations can play in the lives of trauma survivors in their congregations. This book will help clergy understand the nature of psychological trauma, how it affects people, and how faith leaders can help. Because the book is addressed to spiritual leaders, particular attention is paid to the spiritual impact of trauma. For more information on this resource and training opportunities, visit www.riskingconnection.com. The training book is available on Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/Risking-Connection-Curriculum-Survivors-Childhood/dp/188696808X
Wheat Ridge Ministries provided a seed grant that helped produce the book, Welcome Them Home—Help Them Heal: Pastoral Care and Ministry with Service Members Returning from War. This book was written to equip the growing number of pastors, parish nurses, counselors and caregivers in faith communities across the country to support and advocate for veterans and their loved ones. Spiritual recovery after war best takes place in the context of caring, supportive communities of faith that share the news of God’s good grace and reconciliation. I have a copy of this book and recommend it. Their website is www.welcomethemhomebook.com.
God of compassion,
God of dignity and strength,
Watch over veterans of the United States
In recognition of their loyal service to our nation.
Bless them with wholeness and love.
Heal their wounds,
Comfort their hearts,
Grant us peace.
God of justice and truth,
Rock of our lives,
Bless our veterans,
These men and women of courage and valor,
With a deep and abiding understanding
Of our profound gratitude.
Protect them and their families from loneliness and want.
Grant them lives of joy and bounty.
May their dedication and honor
Be remembered as a blessing
From generation to generation.
Blessed are You,
Protector and Redeemer,
Our Shield and Stronghold.
~ Alden Solovy
Rev. Susan Gregg-Schroeder
Coordinator of Mental Health Ministries
6707 Monte Verde Dr.
San Diego, CA 92119