The tragedy of 9/11 casts a long shadow over the mental health problems faced by military veterans returning from the Afghanistan and Iraq battlefields.
Retired U.S. Army chaplain Major General Douglas Carver spoke at a meeting of Agape, a Christian counseling service in Charlotte, on the anniversary of that infamous day. He told workers and supporters that “175,000 veterans have or will come to North Carolina communities after leaving the Armed Services.” Many of them will be seeking mental health care. That is why faith-based organizations in North Carolina are needed to work with or refer those seeking help to the proper counseling services. He pointed out that emotional events take place when men and women serving this country face the jaws of death on the battlefield.
Carver, a member of First Baptist Church in Matthews, said, “According to a 2014 poll, conducted by The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation, more than 260 million veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan struggle with physical or mental health problems as a result of the deployment into a combat environment. One of those emotional costs is depression.”
Retired Major General Douglas Carver, U.S. Army chaplain
Carver, who is the former Army chief of chaplains at the Pentagon, said “Current Department of Veterans Affairs statistics reveal that a veteran commits suicide every 65 minutes. Veterans, having survived the challenges of war, often come home to fight another type of war with family stress, reintegration and post-traumatic stress.”
He emphasized that it is important for communities to assist a vet by simply “getting to know them and help them reconnect with their families and local support groups.”
The former chaplain, who now serves as the executive director of chaplaincy services for the North American Mission Board, said, “Churches and faith-based organizations play a critical role in helping our veterans achieve a sense of normalcy in their lives.”
“According to a 2011 Pew Research Center study, veterans who attend a religious service once a week have a 67 percent chance of recovering from their war wounds,” Carver said.
“In another study, only four percent of churches advertise or provide some kind of intentional ministry for the returning warriors.”
He believes Christians have a moral obligation to make sure these men and women come home to a grateful nation, and that we link up with them. He said believers have a God-given responsibility to take care of those who are struggling. Carver said mental health problems seem to be escalating since 2007-2008 when tours of duty were increased from 12 to 15 months. Personnel began missing not just one but possibly two birthdays, anniversaries and other important personal events. Now some 600,000 veterans have been totally or partially disabled. It is a figure that impacts family caregivers, many of whom are on duty 24/7, and the children who have to deal with detachment stress.
Carver reminded attendees at the Agape event that “wars take a toll whether in the air, on the sea or land.” He quoted retired Air Force colonel and former prisoner of war Robert Hudson, a B-52 pilot shot down over Vietnam in 1972, “Freedom has a costly taste to those who fight and almost die for it that the protected shall never know.” Carver was named earlier this year to a mental health advisory group by Frank S. Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Executive Committee. The purpose is to gather suggestions for the ways Southern Baptists can more effectively minister to people with mental health challenges.
According to Baptist Press, members of the Mental Health Advisory Group (MHAG) include pastors, licensed counselors, healthcare providers, educators, social workers and a military chaplain. They represent churches, private practices, para-church ministries, state conventions and national SBC entities. Many members of the group have dealt with mental health challenges within their own families in addition to their professional experience.
At a recent gathering of MHAG Carver addressed the unique issues that military chaplains face.
Chaplains are trained in trauma, suicide prevention and other issues of particular importance to soldiers, Carver said, and they work with mental health professionals on the field.
There are not enough professionals to go around, he said, so they train at the “first line of defense” – the soldiers. Carver described the Army’s “ACE of Hearts” training model: ask the right questions of fellow soldiers, care enough to listen and escort them to a professional if needed. This model could be applicable to churches as well, he said.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Jacqui Claypool is a freelance writer who has been a television anchor, a CBS station news director, vice president of a television group and president of a communications firm working with major corporations. She lives in Charlotte.)