Ministering with Veterans Dealing with Mental Health Issues

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To mark Remembrance/Veterans Day yesterday, Stephen Harper and Barack Obama paid tribute to military personnel who gave their lives in the line of duty. I am deeply grateful for those who have served and are currently serving our countries. Though both heads of state held their ceremonies in cemeteries; I wish they would mark this day in rehabilitation hospitals sometime.

Protective gear is saving the lives of people who would have died in battle previously, but these survivors are returning to their homes with a variety of disabilities. According to one source about U.S. veterans:

According to the 2011 American Community Survey, 3.5 million veterans have a service-connected disability. As a new influx of disabled veterans return from Iraq and Afghanistan, America's most recent veterans are filing for disability benefits at an unprecedented rate, arguably becoming the generation most in need of post-war supports the United States has ever seen. Invisible wounds have also risen dramatically, with more than 400,000 new veterans seeking treatment by the Veterans Administration for mental health concerns, most commonly, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. Combine these injuries with the tens of thousands of veterans experiencing the effects of traumatic brain injury, or TBI – mostly due to mild concussions from bomb blasts. It is difficult, if not impossible, given the nature of the injuries, to determine what is in store or what might be required long term.

Challenges for Canadian veterans are similar. Churches can and should support these men and women who sacrificed themselves for our countries. Frequently mental health issues are one component in the lives of veterans with disabilities, but pastors and church leaders don't always know how best to minister to these men and women. Here is a brief list of resources:

PTSD: Healing and Hope: This new video available from Mental Health Ministries gives a helpful introduction to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a common challenge for returning vets.

[video:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yP08jh6LK48&list=HL1351117691]

Mental Health Ministry: Pathways to Promise, of which the CRC is a member, helps congregations minister to people dealing with mental health issues. Their Mental Health Ministry Toolkit provides good resources taking first steps in this area of ministry.

Pastoral Care for Trauma Survivors: The International Conference of War Veteran Ministers maintains a web page with a variety of links to resources including "How Faith Communities Can Help," and "When Soldiers Return Home." (The suggested recources come from a variety of sources and should be used with discernment.)

Veterans, especially those who will live with chronic challenges resulting from injuries sustained in war, deserve our respect and appreciation. Some also need our help. Let's make sure we show the love of Christ to them by giving them them appropriate assistance.

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