Our church is located near a military base and recently we have had a lot of soldiers returning from deployment in combat zones such as Iraq and Afghanistan. Increasingly with the soldiers attending our church, I have notice marital problems, problems with children, and even some substance abuse issues. At times I feel over my head in addressing these problems and am wondering how I might truly help these soldiers.
Dear “Over my head” (Part I):
You are correct that these issues with returning veterans can be complex. There is a growing awareness that the return to “normal” (non-combat) civilian life brings with it layers of difficulty even when there is no evidence of being wounded physically. As David Scheider and Thomas Waynick say in their article, “Pastoral Care for Veterans and Their Families,” a person cannot go to war and come back exactly the same. While not everyone deployed to a combat zone experiences overwhelming traumatic events, most everyone experiences life-changing events. The military has increased its efforts to attend to these problems with re-entry protocols and programs like Battlemind for soldiers, children, and spouses (www.battlemind.army.mil/). You can certainly encourage soldiers and their families to engage in such a program which has as its major theme, “. . . that the mental orientation that helped the soldier to survive during combat is not that useful when home with loved ones.”
The very fact that you have “noticed” these soldiers is an important first step. In subsequent articles, I will give some more details on specifics that need to be noticed, especially those which might indicate a need to refer a soldier or soldier’s family to counseling.
As a rule of thumb, whenever you feel “over your head” it is probably time to refer. Even when a soldier is in counseling, the “extratherapeutic” activities such as being part of a caring Christian community contributes greatly to healing. When that community shares the hope of timeless messages, provides resources for couples, provides a safe place to process experiences and the “big questions” in life, the veteran can more easily integrate successfully into civilian life.
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