Military trauma: an opportunity for the church?

There were several military (Army) personnel on our flight to Charlotte yesterday. They announced over the loudspeaker that these men were returning home from a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The cabin filled with applause and many passengers personally thanked them for their service to the country. A couple of people in first class gave up their seats so some could ride in style on their journey home. Most of us felt warm and fuzzy. Certainly this is a better “welcome home” than Vietnam veterans received.

But beneath the good feelings are many trauma wounds that most of us cannot see. As the information trickles out about the rampage killing of Afghanis, we come to find out that the alleged shooter was on his 4th tour of duty and had suffered injury in 2 of the previous tours, including a traumatic brain injury. On top of that he may have been having some marital problems (4 tours could do that to nearly any marriage!).

While nearly all military vets do not go on shooting rampages, we do see that suicide rates have markedly increased, especially among females and reservists in active duty. One newspaper reported that an US vet kills him/herself every 80 minutes–but Iraqi vets do so every 36 minutes. Startling!

One barrier to getting help for symptoms of PTSD is that veterans are less likely to talk to civilians about their struggles. If you haven’t had to kill, it feels like you can’t understand what it is like to live with guilt, memory, of killing. This is understandable–even though civilians willing to listen can be of great help. Thus, it makes sense for every church with active military (or recently discharged) to find someone with street cred to take up the cause of talking to vets as well as their families. Most likely, someone on the front lines comes home significantly changed. If married, you can imagine how that would stress a family. This “chaplain” to vet families could be that person who is able to hear the struggles, point to God’s handiwork, and point to local services when needed.

PTSD is a destructive disease of the whole person. But, it can be treated, managed, and coped with. There are a couple of newer forms of treatment (Prolonged Exposure) that hold much promise. Let us not let these men and women continue to suffer silently. A first class seat can be a wonderful present but an ongoing presence and pursuit once home will have more lasting results.


Filed under Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Uncategorized

12 responses to “Military trauma: an opportunity for the church?

  1. D. Stevenson

    Do you think everyone who has been deployed into an active war zone experiences some level of post-traumatic stress? (although perhaps not to a level of disorder) Can a vet ever get 100% past PTSD, or PTS? What does it mean to “get past/heal?”

    • I do not think all soldiers have trauma but I do expect all have unwanted thought and memories. By definition, any level of ptsd would require a physiological reaction to intrusive imagery. I guess that not all have an overtly negative reaction.

    • What do you mean by gat past? Are you refering to something in my post?

      • D. Stevenson

        The words “managed, and coped with” are what caused me to think that perhaps a person with PTSD cannot hope for anything more than lessened symptoms. By “get past” I mean 100% without intrusive imagery and its physiological reaction. (or vice versa if that is the case)

  2. Such a needed post. I can not imagine how life is for these vets. Is the prolonged exposure treatment what they were talking about when I breifly heard a news clip about Vets going into Wal-Mart as part of a treatment plan?

  3. Hey there. Just wanted to write as someone with “inside” knowledge. I am a psychologist currently deployed to Afghanistan (my second trip). There seems to be a lot of generalizations about what “soldiers” go through during a deployment. It’s important to remember that not everyone is in the infantry or another combat arms job. Some people spend their deployments pushing paperwork, working in a post office, fixing vehicles, or other support roles. However, even for those who are participating in combat operations on a regular basis, many of them are incredibly resilient. In regards to whether or not I think everyone who has deployed experiences some degree of combat stress, I would have to say No. Does war change people? Absolutely, but it’s not always in bad ways.

    I could go on and on, and I’m happy to dialogue with anyone who will be working with a military population or who has any other questions about combat deployments.

    • Thanks for your insider comment. Let me add that even some who do not have to have combat jobs may struggle with re-entry, even if not from PTSD. It is true that not everyone is changed for the worse. But, enough are to make it a priority assessment and intervention. Glad you are there doing frontline work.

    • Rebecca

      I am so disappointed that a “professional” such as yourself could make the comment that “Some people spend their deployments pushing paperwork, working in a post office, fixing vehicles, or other support roles” and therefore not exposed to the influences of war. These men/women live with the daily fear that they or someone they know could be in harms way. While I am compelled to thank you for your service, I do not feel the same about your opinion:
      Wife of a 33 yr Army Officer and Iraq Veteran

      • Rebecca, thanks for the helpful corrective to ArmyShrink’s comment. I did not correct it at the time of the commenters post but I thank you for catching it.

      • Mother of a Marine

        I don’t read Armyshrink saying those in support roles are not exposed to the influences of war. I read him saying that war-combat experience varies and one picture doesn’t fit all.

        We know that two people can have the same experience, yet one develops PTSD and the other does not. In addition, it is sensible to think that threat of death/harm varies among personnel. Presumably, background support personnel undergo less direct combat trauma than recon.

        However, I am surprised that ArmyShrink thinks some troops don’t experience ANY combat stress. I think it can be argued that even family on the home front experience some degree of at least combat-related stress.

        Perhaps a bigger problem is the belief that resilience is a moral category. Resilience is often equated with strength. Too many men/women are ashamed of their struggles, don’t want to acknowledge them, and don’t seek needed support. Mental health-care stigma exists in general society. Imagine how much stronger the stigma about mental health-care in the military where it is even more important to be “strong.”

        Perhaps that evidences an even greater need for those in the church who have the necessary empathy to reach out and be there for the returning (and returned) vets.

      • Rebecca

        Not to seem argumentative but for me the comment implied that unless a service member was in direct combat they were not exposed to the stresses of war. His actual comment was in quotations, the remainder of that sentence was my take on the comment. As a fully trained Christian Counselor who has worked with the military, I know this is not the case. The truth is each person based on past experiences, culture and spiritual beliefs will respond differently. You make a lot of good points and I thank you for that, as well as thanking your child for their service.

      • Mother of a Marine

        IMO “Argumentative” is good when it is discussion/clarification/explanation and such.

        I think both of our ‘takes’ are possible, and I agree that yours is more likely correct. I appreciate that what you say is stated clearly. – “The truth is each person based on past experiences, culture and spiritual beliefs will respond differently.” – A VERY important point, because it shows that we cannot accurately judge a person because of their mental health. We simply don’t, and can’t know, what is is like to walk in their shoes (or boots!).

        Yes, we are pretty proud of our Marine, who also is an Officer and Iraq Vet. Not as many years as your husband though. He’s not even that old! 🙂

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