A key issue in shifting attention from other persons to veterans is that the conventional wisdom in mental illness is that one is addressing a no-fault chemical imbalance. With respect to the diagnosis of PTSD, however, one is addressing a “mental wound” that has a specific trigger, the trauma that caused the wound, whether it be rape, domestic violence, child abuse, or combat.
The “no-fault” language of other mental illness circles is thus often not helpful, because it might focus on fixing body chemistry rather than healing the wound. One element that seems dominant in turning a simple horrible experience into a wounding trauma is the element of betrayal, which is specifically a violation of a relationship. The stance taken by Risking Connection is therefore that what was broken in a relational context needs healing in a relational context.
A helpful resource is “Risking Connection in Faith Communities”, a curriculum for faith leaders supporting trauma survivors by Jackson Day. It is intended specifically to help faith leaders support trauma survivors, and that includes veterans.
What United Methodist churches can do now for American troops
Here are some suggestions from United Methodist chaplains for local congregations to show God's love for American military personnel and their families.
"Adopt" someone in military service, or get your congregation to adopt an entire military unit. Send them emails, letters and "care packages" of items that will ease their wartime duty. For details on how to connect with armed forces personnel through United Methodist chaplains, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Provide a safe space. Invite military families to meet at the church for mutual sharing, recreation and comfort. Protect them from intrusion, especially from curious or insensitive media personnel. Always provide childcare, and offer food if they wish.
Let them talk. Train willing, compassionate, non-judgmental church members, especially military veterans, to be listeners for returning war veterans. Veterans can be especially helpful as listeners, because military personnel often have greater trust that those who have "been there" will understand what they're going through. Do not discuss the politics of the war; you can express your politics regarding war elsewhere.
Hold worship services for military personnel when they deploy and when they return. The chaplains at the consultation suggested these guidelines for a worship service: When they leave, reassure them of God's ever-present love for them and their families. When they return, thank them for their service, ask God to forgive them for whatever violence they may have been required to enact, and pray for healing of their spirits. Examples of such worship services may soon be available through the United Methodist Endorsing Agency at the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry website, http://www.gbhem.org.
Learn the vital roles that chaplains play as peacemakers amid conflict. Often a chaplain's intervention in the heat of battle can restrain troops from committing retaliatory violence when a teammate is wounded or killed. As a chaplain said during the consultation: "You tell the troops: 'Suppose, however it happened, that you killed somebody's grandma. Would you want your adversary to waste your entire town in retaliation?' And soldiers say: 'Chaplain, you're right. Thanks for cooling me down.' "
Be a vigorous advocate for resources that protect troops and for veterans' benefits. "Troops fight wars, but wars are governed by civilian political leadership," said Rev. Neal Christie of the General Board of Church and Society. Contact your congressional representatives, who hold the purse strings of government. Demand that the federal budgetprovide appropriate resources for troops while in action, and benefits for them upon their return. Church and Society's legislative plan for 2007, including board contacts.