Monday, August 12, 2013

War Veterans facing PTSD, Depression, and Suicide: Why the current situation is bleak and what the Christian church can do to help.

This month, I'm going to do a series of blog posts discussing the topic of "Battle Fatigue".  While it is a very popular topic that is out there in the public consciousness, I perceive that it has really received the short shrift among Lutherans specifically and the Christian church more generally.

So why call it "Battle Fatigue" here?  Battle Fatigue is an older term which is about 25-75 years old.  These days, all of the issues surrounding the unique challenges faced by returning veterans are typically lumped into the clinical term called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  PTSD is a psychological diagnosis.  I am just a Christian war veteran and not a trained psychologist.  PTSD is a serious and real problem, but it is not the only problem that returning service members face and not the only topic that I want to address.

While some of my personal observations about PTSD and its treatment will come up, I am also going to speak about a wide range of issues facing returning veterans (and Christian veterans in particular) that don't always neatly fit into the more narrow set of symptoms and issues that that clinical diagnosis addresses.  It is my hope that this discussion will help start some dialogue and at least help some people address this issue.

Before I get into the topic, I'm going to get some house keeping out of the way.  I am no longer in the military so my personal observations on this blog obviously don't reflect any official policy of any branch of the military or the government as a whole... much less individual units or commands that I have been in contact with over the years.  Because these are often deeply private issues, I am going to do my best to speak very abstractly on this public forum without using names, places, or units so that I don't reveal very emotionally sensitive situations past and present.  I also come from the Army, so a large part of this is going to be from a "soldier's" perspective (as opposed to sailors, airmen, marines, civilians, contractors, etc).  Because the services have become so integrated and face similar challenges, I'm sure a lot of these topics are going to translate fairly well across branches.  For the sake of simplicity, I'm going to say "soldier" to encompass military personnel as a whole.

As you can probably tell from the tiny amount of actual comments that I get on this blog, most of the feedback that I get from my posts is via email anyway.  I really appreciate any and all feedback... especially on this important topic.  Public conversation is great, but I would encourage anyone who wants to talk to me privately about these issues to email me.  You don't even have to give me your name or anyone else's name and I certainly won't share anything that anyone tells me to anyone without permission.

Here is my email:

Here are some of the topics that I am going to discuss in various posts (feel free to suggest additional topics or revisiting of already covered topics):

1.  The Military Honor Culture:  Why the very high-performance culture that has to be in place to keep soldiers safe and the military so effective at what it does also contributes to soldier emotional and spiritual distress, discourages self-reporting of serious problems, and adversely affects healing.

2.  Counterproductive Hero Worship:  How the ghosts of the Vietnam War and the changing American culture have caused a well-meaning public to overcompensate thus creating the myth of a romantic, idealized soldier that feeds into the worst aspects of the "Honor Culture" which sometimes hurts individual soldiers rather than supporting them.

3.  The Chaplaincy:  Some "outside looking in" observations on how the military chaplaincy is forced to operate in the combat environment and how various challenges in the situation make it very difficult for soldiers to receive meaningful spiritual care.

4.  Reintegration and the Congregation:  How some of the unique challenges faced by returning war veterans affects how they relate to their home congregation and what the local church can do to welcome back these members and help them.

5.  Deployment and the Congregation:  What the church can do to spiritually support deployed members and their families.

6.  The Spiritual Reality of the War Environment:  How modern American culture as a whole (and the American church by extension) is not equipped to address the spiritual aspect of a combat environment and what we can do to change that.

In each of these and any other topics that I plan on discussing, I will do my best to include my thoughts and suggestions on:

What pastors and elders can do to help.
What congregations and family members can do to help.
What individual service members can do to help themselves.

I'm really looking forward to getting some informative and proactive information out on this topic and I hope that it will be constructive and valuable.  Really, if I can help one person, it will be worth the effort.

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