Ministers Can Assist War Veterans Dealing with Trauma

by U.S. Medicine

January 22, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC—When seeking psychological support for mental health issues after deployment, servicemembers and veterans most often turn to their minister. Speaking during a webinar held by the Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological and Traumatic Brain Injury, Rev John Oliver, chief of the Chaplain Service at the Durham VA Medical Center said people are five times more likely to confide in their minister than in all other mental health care providers.

A spiritual reaction is among the different reactions that servicemembers who are involved with combat may experience, according to Oliver, who noted that servicemembers may be confused about their faith after their war experience. In addition, servicemembers who come home may lose their community. “We have had many veterans come home and they simply don’t fit into the college scene. They don’t fit into the scenes that they had friends from before. They have also lost their community downrange and the individuals they are deployed with.”

Pastors can be helpful in supporting servicemembers and veterans if they understand what PTSD is, Oliver said. “A pastor can be a very helpful person in your community if they know what they are talking about, if they understand what PTSD is, and that there are physiological responses to these stresses that they need to be aware of. Oftentimes, pastors do not know this.”

As part of his work at the Durham VA Medical Center, Oliver said that he educates pastors and ministers around the country about how they can be helpful. “Many pastors are being faced with these issues of folks coming home and they don’t know what to do.”

Oliver said at the Durham VA Medical Center, chaplains are “well integrated into the community” that provides help to veterans.

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