By G. Jeffrey Macdonald| Religion News Service, Published: November 9
Since forming in 2009, the non-profit group Care for the Troops has equipped 37 Georgia congregations to convene peer groups, identify local clinicians with military experience and otherwise support soldiers’ families. The project is now adding congregations in Tennessee, California and other states.
Illinois-based Wheat Ridge Ministries has been circulating Lutheran liturgies and other resources to help churches build bonds with military families. Point Man Ministries in New York has partnered with about 250 U.S. congregations to host veteran-led, peer support groups for those dealing with PTSD.
Last year, Army Chaplain Jeremy Pickens launched the Massachusetts Military Spiritual Strength Network, where clergy and laypeople receive training in how to make religious programs more military-friendly. The network now includes 60 local churches.
“Sometimes we hear people say, ‘We don’t have the training to deal with PTSD,’” Pickens said. “But (to minister effectively), I don’t need to know what it means to have PTSD. I just need to know how to listen. It’s a matter of providing open space where people can talk.”
In his presentation, Bauer shared sobering facts about struggles faced by those returning from war. Example: in 2010, the military had more suicides (468) than deaths in combat (462).
The roots of trauma often go back to childhood, Bauer said, where 60 percent of veterans experienced physical abuse and 40 percent experienced sexual abuse. Such psychological wounds can get re-opened in combat, and by the time a soldier comes home, mental and emotional patterns can be habitual and difficult to overcome.
Hidden wounds can be tricky to manage, Bauer said, in part because they’re not easy to diagnose. Depression is common in the 3.2 million Americans who’ve suffered traumatic brain injury, he said. He urged members of faith communities to take note when someone seems overwhelmed by normal levels of light or sound, and make referrals for medical evaluations.