Monthly Archives: October, 2015

Soul Care Conversation (Reintegration and Transition)

October 29th, 2015 Posted by Blog 1 comment

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week we concluded our conversation on the context of war as we reviewed the Post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. For the next four weeks we will focus our conversation around the challenges of transition and reintegration for the veteran and the veteran’s family. This week we will introduce reintegration and discuss some of the transition challenges.

INTRODUCTION: WHAT IS REINTEGRATION?

Reintegration is characterized by the veteran’s returning to his or her daily life as experienced prior to deployment.  Despite much literature suggesting that the reintegration stage lasts several months, this stage can actually persist for months to years depending on the individual veteran, his or her family situation, and the fuller context of the service member’s life.

Reintegration involves:

  • learning how to reconnect with your family and loved ones
  • taking care of YOU!

Let’s look at both of these aspects separately.

LEARNING HOW TO RECONNECT WITH YOUR FAMILY

Most likely, the warrior and family maintained contact during the course of the deployment. Letter writing, emails, and the occasional phone calls provided opportunities to remain as close as the distance in miles would allow. However, in some situations the separation only exacerbated an already difficult relationship. Couples discover that the distance makes it difficult to communicate. Or, the couple engage in power games, stretching an already strained relationship. For couples experiencing a healthy relationship, some fine-tuning may be needed when the veteran returns.

Reintegration can be a turbulent time for the family, as members must re-form into a functioning system. Some studies suggest that relationship stress and negative family function may reach a peak between 4 to 9 months after the service member’s return.

Challenges in reintegration often can center around:

  • renegotiating family roles
  • veteran encounters the often-unexpected difficulty of fitting into a home routine that has likely changed a great deal since his or her departure
  • at-home parent and children assume new responsibilities
  • spouse took on many of the roles the service member accomplished prior, such as paying bills, disciplining the children, repairing the car
  • veteran may desire to take back the responsibilities

This can cause conflict within the marital relationship as well as effect the family dynamics.  (In the following weeks we will look in some detail the challenges each family entity may experience.)

For the veteran who is single, there are some challenges as well. It is important for the veteran to consider what impact the deployment had on him or herself. How will this impact social relationships and living habits? Some of the same challenges that effect the married veteran will also be prevalent for the single veteran:

  • the veteran’s significant other may have changed during the deployment
  • immediate family members may have expectations on your time
  • changes have occurred in some family members; such as illness, divorce

It is important for the veteran, spouse, and other family members to know that the transition from combat to home will provide numerous challenges. Knowing this will assist all family members to begin to communicate expectations and understand the changes that may have occurred in various familial entities during separation.

TAKING CARE OF YOU

Military training and combat operations have one big thing in common – survival. While in combat, certain circumstances threaten the physical, mental and spiritual health of the warrior. Combat stress and post- traumatic stress are common reactions to a combat deployment. Extreme stress while in combat will not only disrupt the warrior’s performance, but it will threaten the veteran’s health if not managed appropriately after he or she has returned. When symptoms linger for months it could lead to other illnesses or behavior issues such as:

  • depression
  • anxiety
  • PTSD
  • addiction (gambling, drugs and alcohol)
  • domestic abuse
  • child abuse
  • suicide

Veterans are extremely resilient and strong. However, sometimes their strengths can be a challenge. As a veteran may not recognize that they have endured extreme hardships or stress, they may have difficulty recognizing that they may need personal care. Sometimes, family members and friends notice changes in the veteran that may cause them concern.

Therefore, the returning veteran should look at the steps needed to take care of themselves.

What can the returning veteran do?

  • complete all medical screening
  • be aware of the post-deployment reactions
  • accept training in coping skills
  • focus on relieving symptoms of distress
  • connect with care providers in order to get required help
  • prior to military separation, visit respective service branch assistance programs in order to ensure benefits and resources

Understanding the nature and patterns for reintegration challenges enables the veteran and family to have more control over their lives. This knowledge will enhance a good reintegration.

What can the community do to understand these challenges? How can the community be a part of a good transition home? The answers to these questions can lead us to understand the role that the community can have in assisting the veteran disengage from military life and begin a full reintegration into civilian life.

Next week, we will look at the transition challenges a veteran will experience upon their return home. Until then, hope to have you join the conversation….

The Atlantic – Healing a Wounded Sense of Morality

October 26th, 2015 Posted by Articles, Resources No Comment yet

Maggie Puniewska, writing for The Atlantic, provides an in depth look at moral injury and various efforts to help veterans heal.

Kansas City veteran copes with moral injury from war

October 26th, 2015 Posted by Blog, Multimedia, Resources No Comment yet

KSHB’s short segment highlights the struggles of moral injury through Kansas City veteran Ted John, a retired U.S. Marine.

CBS News: Veterans Journey Home – Faith, Hope & War

October 26th, 2015 Posted by Blog, Multimedia, Resources No Comment yet

VETERANS JOURNEY HOME: FAITH, HOPE & WAR, a CBS Interfaith Special, looks at the unique challenges faced by male and female veterans as they transition to civilian life. This special broadcast features the work of organizations like the Soul Repair Center that are focused on moral injury.

 

Click here to watch the video on CBS’s website.

Soul Care Conversation (Context of War – Post 9/11, Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom)

October 21st, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week we continued our conversation on the context of war as we reviewed the Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm. This week we will look at the Post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

CULTURAL AND POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS

There are events that bring significance to certain dates on a calendar. These events are so momentous that they evoke in our memories where we were and what we were doing. One of these dates is September 11, 2001.

That day began like any other morning in the Army for me. I ran 5 miles, showered, and was departing the locker room for the office. However, on this particular morning, I saw on the television one of the World Trade Towers burning. As I stood there intently watching the news broadcast, another plane hit the second tower. As a Soldier I knew that my life would be changed.

The terror attacks on 9/11 tremendously impacted the first decade of the 21st century.  For the first time in a long time, the nation as a whole rallied together. We grieved. We were angry. We were resolute. Few blinked when President Bush responded to these acts of terrorism claiming a “war” on terror.

On 20 September 2001, the U.S. stated that Osama bin Laden was behind the attacks. The US made a five-point ultimatum to the Taliban of which they rejected. NATO and other coalition forces led by the US began combat operations on 7 October 2001.

Within a week of 9/11 there were reports that members of the Bush administration were drawing up war plans for Iraq as well as Afghanistan.  This was to be the next phase of the war on terror, the ouster of Saddam Hussein.  In the 17 months that followed the commencement of military action in Afghanistan, attention shifted to Iraq.  Allegations about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction mounted.  March 20, 2003 US lead troops pushed into Iraq.  However, as effective as the coalition forces were, unforeseeable and uncontrollable events would intrude. Political and operational clarity began to fade.

Both wars became controversial as they continued through the decade. The following factors would contribute to a shift in domestic and political support:

  • number of US deaths climbed above 6,700
  • number of seriously wounded mounted
  • multiple deployments
  • shifting missions and objectives
  • political ambiguity

The lessons of Vietnam would not stay out of the controversy.  It was not that the importance of learning about how to engage in guerrilla war or counterinsurgency operations was missed, rather it was the resolution not to go to such wars.

The war on terror is not like previous wars. The dissimilarities were:

  • no decisive battles occurred between nations
  • engagements were seldom resolute
  • overwhelming support of the US populous toward the troops
  • an increased number of women involved in combat because there were no front lines
  • large number of wounded who survived their initial wounds due to better equipment and modern battlefield medicine

(Some of the above information taken from, Those who have Borne the Battle, James Wright)

IMPLICATIONS FOR TODAY

The US alone has had over 6,700 warrior casualties from both theaters of operations. This has had an effect on the home front as well as for those in the military. On the home front, there have been over 6,700 mothers, fathers, spouses, sons, daughters and friends who have experienced the knock at their door from the casualty notification officer and chaplain delivering the most heart breaking news, that their loved one has been a casualty of war. Gold Star families live with this loss and pain each day.

For the military, every time a warrior becomes a casualty on the battlefield, the closest comrades and friends of that hero or heroes pay their respects to their battle buddy at a “ramp ceremony” by carrying a transfer case draped in a flag onto an aircraft for the long flight home. The ramp ceremony is about 15 minutes in length. Basically, this is the only time for grief that a unit can take.  Each time a unit experiences a casualty, a ramp ceremony occurs. This has a cumulative effect on the unit and those in the unit.

The Pew Research Center has determined that the exposure to casualties affect the following:

  • the emotional well-being of many warriors
  • more likely to say, by 42% to 27%, that they suffered from post-traumatic stress
  • Memorial Day becomes intensely personal
  • more likely to say the wars were worth fighting
 (the above taken from “Memorial Day: About half of veterans of post-9/11 wars served with someone who was killed,” by Bruce Drake)

The good news for our warriors serving on today’s battlefields, modern body armor and headgear have protected the troops from death. But there is bad news with the good news. Yes, the US has experienced a high survivability rate from injuries sustained on the battlefield, however, the body armor and headgear cannot protect the warrior from loss of limbs, burns or from head injuries.

The long term effects of the war wounded include:

  • Serious wounds – over 50,000 of which 43,000 Traumatic Brain Injury and 1600 limb amputations
  • Over 4,000 new cases of PTSD each month
  • Most of the injured are young and will require decades of care
  • Estimated health care cost could reach half a trillion over the next two decades
    (Iraq, Afghanistan War Wounded Pass 50,000, David Wood, Huffington Post, 25 October 2012)
  • 1.1 million caregivers providing 24/7 care to wounded veteran (Rand Study conducted by The Dole Foundation)
  • Statistics do not reflect soul wounds

Lastly, the Vietnam syndrome remains a constant in our national conversation. Partly this is due to the political landscape, partly because of the tactical, operational, and strategic outcomes from both wars. I believe this is why Steve’s (a combat veteran) comments to last week’s blog are relevant for this conversation. Steve stated, “To support troops and not the conflict they have legally been sent to fight is not far from how we treated troops in the Vietnam era. Our troops were spit upon literally as they came home from Vietnam. Our troops who fought in OIF and OEF watched their buddies die horrible deaths at the explosions of numerous IEDs. We took ground with blood, and NOW our troops who watched their buddies be blown apart are watching a far worse enemy take those cities, drive our hardened military vehicles, and flaunt their murderous regime’s authority. This happened because the public did not support the war as encouraged by a liberal media, and the net result of this attitude is that we did not support our troops. I’d rather be spit upon than fight a war, watch my buddies die, and have it all mean nothing!”

I, too, as a combat veteran from both Iraq and Afghanistan share Steve’s sentiment. Our passion and anger toward what has transpired in Afghanistan and Iraq is reflected in the Pew Research findings, “warriors who were seriously wounded or knew of someone who was killed or seriously wounded are more likely to say that the wars were worth fighting.”

Our warriors chose the well-being of others before self. Our warriors chose to help others before their own comfort. They chose justice knowing that it may cost them their own lives. Our warriors do all of this believing that the sacrifice of so many will not be in vain and that the memory of those who died while serving will be honored. This is a matter that goes deep into the soul. We will begin to fold back this concept over the course of the next several months.

I will be travelling over the course of these next several weeks and may not have the opportunity to get out the blog. We will definitely have a conversation around Veterans Day! Until next time…

Soul Care Conversation (Context of War – Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm)

October 15th, 2015 Posted by Blog 2 comments

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week, our conversation on the context of war focused on the Vietnam War. The study and review of the Vietnam War produced numerous criteria for any future military operations. The criteria:

  • do not fight a limited war
  • have clear objectives
  • insist on Congressional authority
  • have consistent and unambiguous strategic goals
  • minimize casualties
  • maintain public support

The Gulf War, Operation Desert Storm, really was the only operation since Vietnam that met all these conditions. So this week we will continue our discussion by looking at the Gulf War.

Prior to our discussion, we must know that there were numerous contingency operations between Vietnam and the Gulf War; Grenada, Panama, Bosnia, and Somalia, to name a few. We will not discuss these operations because they did not require a large scale deployment. It is also important to remember that in all post-Vietnam operations, the military relied on an all-volunteer force.

CULTURAL AND POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS

The Gulf War was planned for and executed with an overwhelming military force. In the back of the minds from the Commander-in-Chief to the operational planners was the desire to fight for victory so this would not be another Vietnam.

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait, President Bush began a major buildup in Saudi Arabia.  Warnings to Iraq were not effective.  Generals Colin Powell and Norman Schwarzkopf controlled the war plans.  They rejected any incrementalism in favor of total and overwhelming military force at the outset.  The war had clear objectives and once these objectives were reached, the US would disengage the Iraqi forces from Kuwait.

The outcome:

  • more than 500,000 US military personnel participated
  • a rapid victory, 100 hours
  • US and its coalition partners defeated the Iraqi forces with few casualties, 246 Coalition to include 148 Americans (and the tragedy was the large number of friendly fire deaths)

President George H. W. Bush declared, “By God, we’ve licked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all.”  Operation Desert Storm was a rapid success.

Additionally, a rather new entity within warfare took on an important role, live news broadcasts from the battlefield.  Instantaneous news was on most Americans’ television sets for days.  News pools captured the realities of war.  Even though the war was in every American home, public opinion remained high.

The lessons from Iraq cannot be denied. This was a highly successful operation that met all of the criteria following the study and review of Vietnam. However, to state that US had “licked the Vietnam syndrome once and for all” would be an over-statement. Political and military leaders discussed and debated the same mistakes made in Vietnam during Operation Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Operation Iraqi Freedom (Iraq). We will review the post-9/11 wars next week and look in detail these concerns.

(Some of the above information taken from, Those who have Borne the Battle, James Wright)

IMPLICATIONS FOR TODAY

Beyond the long-term geopolitical repercussions and the successful operational assessment, there were several other significant implications from the Gulf War. First, technology affected both the warrior in combat and the family back home.

  • first war broadcast “live”
  • satellite telephone communications provided the capability for warriors to call home

The significance with these changes had an effect on American society and especially the families of the warriors who served in the Gulf. Because of embedded reporters providing instantaneous news from the battlefield, spouses became news junkies. For the news reporter and the warrior, there was a constant need to balance operational security with the “need to know.”

In previous wars, mail would be the primary means of communication. It could take weeks for letters to arrive in a theater of operations. With instant communication, readily accessible information could lead to other problems. Often the warrior would have to deal with a crisis in combat as well as one on the home front. Marital difficulties experienced prior to deployment could be a exacerbated in combat.  Rather than use the phone conversation to support one another, the warrior and spouse use the telephone to spat over issues.

Other implications include these three significant factors:

  • use of GI Bill
  • Gulf War Syndrome
  • American support for the military grew

Prior to the Gulf War, many joined the military for the educational benefits afforded by serving. Following the war, there was a great number who separated due to the significant down-sizing of military personnel. Many veterans decided to further their education or get specialized job training.

The VA recognized that many veterans returned with the Gulf War Syndrome. What is Gulf War Syndrome? It is an illness typified by a range of medically unexplained symptoms. It has not always been clear whether these symptoms were related to Gulf War service.

Symptoms attributed to this syndrome have been wide-ranging, including chronic fatigue, memory loss, loss of muscle control, muscle and joint pain, headaches, dizziness and loss of balance, indigestion, skin problems, and shortness of breath. I have a Gulf War veteran in my Combat Support Group who experiences Gulf War Syndrome. It is so frustrating for him because he experiences the symptoms of chronic fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and tingling in his extremities. However, the doctors can not provide any relief.

Lastly, from the Commander-in-Chief to very senior military leaders, they expressed the belief that the demons of the Vietnam War had at long last been exorcised. Because of the decisive victory and accomplished goals a shift in attitude toward service members suggested a level of empathy, respect, and affection that had been absent, and even unimaginable, since the late 1960s. It has been interesting to observe over the course of these last 14 years of war that the American public largely supports the military and their sacrifice, even though they are not supportive of the wars themselves. This has been a significant change from Vietnam.

What other implications do you believe have had an effect on the veteran, the veteran’s family, or American society?

Next week, we will have a conversation on the Post 9/11 Wars. Until then, I hope that you will join this conversation and share from your experience…

 

 

 

 

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Context of War – Vietnam)

October 7th, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversations is to create a place to generate dialogue, initiate thoughtful consideration for the challenges our veterans face each day, share ideas of veteran and family well-being and healing, and spark within all of us a call to be engaged with the veteran and caregiver community. Click here to visit the forum and join the conversation!)

Last week, we continued our conversation on the context of war by first discussing the Korean War. This week we will look at the Vietnam War.

CULTURAL AND POLITICAL CONSIDERATIONS

My understanding of the Vietnam War comes from a personal perspective. No, I am not a Vietnam War veteran. I am a child of the 50’s and 60’s having graduated from High School in 1973. With sadness I can still picture the students who graduated a year or two earlier from my high school who were drafted and died in the war. I entered the Army ROTC program at Penn State University fall of 1975 – the same year of the fall of Saigon and the US Embassy on 28 April. I vividly remember watching the news seeing UH-1 helicopters attempt to rescue 2500 evacuees.

I also recall walking across campus in uniform hearing the shouts of others exclaiming, “Baby Killer.” The other saying quite prevalent at the time was “Make love, not war.” Most evenings while in junior and senior high school I would watch NBC Nightly News with Ted Huntley and David Brinkley. Every broadcast would conclude with a scroll of names of those who died that day in Vietnam. Although I do not think the network news entirely intended to honor the service of so many, it was a powerful testimony to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice.

Knowing this, one may think that I would understand the cultural and political implications of the Vietnam War. And yet, I remain as unclear about these considerations as I was 50 years ago. Please allow me to reflect on some of the issues as I understand them.

The controversy about the Vietnam War needs to be understood in the backdrop of the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Very few policy makers questioned the basic Cold War assumptions that led the US into the war.  These assumptions were projected to the service members who executed the policy in combat.  The Cold War philosophy centered around the containment of communism.  From Cuba to Berlin to South East Asia, communism threatened the free world.

However, the war became ensnared in issues. What were the issues?

  • political ambivalence at home
  • poor foreign policy decisions
  • poor military tacticians and leadership not understanding or adjusting to guerrilla warfare
  • domestic politics contributed to the American public confidence waning

All of these issues surfaced prior to the Tet Offensive.  North Vietnam orchestrated a major assault on several major South Vietnam cities.  This provided a shock to the American public as it turned most assumptions upside down. Although the US and South Vietnamese forces turned them back, the strategic impact was quite negative.  Yes the US was able to win battles, however the fact that the North Vietnamese were able to undertake the offensive was a setback.  The absence of a strategic mission became pronounced following Tet.

Early in the war, there were few draftees.  Early units had trained together and were led by officers and Non-commissioned officers who trained them.  President Johnson refused to call up the reserves and guard because he desired to minimize the political fallout.  So it was necessary to increase the draft calls.  The politics of the draft became a political issue; deferments, demographics of those serving, and standards.

Lastly, the counterculture of the 60’s shaped the dialogue back home.  The music was largely anti-military and rejected patriotic support.  The assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Dr. King seemed to suggest a political system in disarray.  By 1967 the protests against the war became more vocal and consequential.  The My Lai massacre fitted readily into a growing narrative of the war and the conduct of the troops there, that all “good boys” were at least potentially murderers tainted by war.  Allegations of baby killers were not just cast toward those who fought in the war but toward all who wore the uniform.

This is the context in which we found our combat veterans returning home after serving a tour in Vietnam.  Stories of veterans shunned and disrespected became part of the complexity of the homecoming of American service men and women.

(Some of the above information taken from, Those who have Borne the Battle, James Wright)

IMPLICATIONS FOR TODAY

Every warrior who steps onto the battlefield will lose something. Possibly they will lose their:

  • innocence
  • faith in God or humanity
  • battle buddy or friend
  • limb, eye sight, or hearing
  • family due to divorce

Most Vietnam War veterans will tell you they lost something else, their country. This heartbreaking reality has been in large part the reason why Vietnam veterans have found it difficult to “come home.” Other reasons may explain the difficulty the Vietnam veteran has in returning home:

  • unresolved guilt due to moral injury
  • PTSD
  • diminished faith due to soul wounds
  • unprocessed grief and loss
  • feelings of being abandoned or punished by God
  • loss of meaning and purpose for living

Those who fought in Vietnam sacrificed much, over 58,000 warriors were killed in action and over 300,000 wounded.  However, the toll continues even to today.  Recently, the Veterans Affairs released statistics stating that more Vietnam veterans have committed suicide than who died in the war. Additionally, some Vietnam veterans experience severe health related issues related to Agent Orange exposure. Those who survived the war in Southeast Asia continued to fight the war at home.

These implications point to a need, a challenge of caring for our veterans, especially those who served in Vietnam. What can we do? Some of the simple and yet profound steps include:

  • thank a Vietnam veteran for their service
  • welcome a Vietnam veteran “home”
  • listen to the veteran’s “sacred” story with your heart

There are other means by which we can help that will require patience, persistence and prayer. These include:

  • develop a relationship with a Vietnam veteran
  • be a sounding board or an outlet with the veteran’s frustrations, anger, pain, fear, and guilt
  • accept or understand the veteran’s journey (do not judge or try to fix)
  • earn their trust
  • if the veteran has not done so already, encourage the veteran to get connected with the VA
  • be aware of the signs for suicide (refer if necessary)

This conversation has touched the surface of the considerations for our Vietnam veterans. In future blogs we will share specific measures that the faith community or faith partners can use to journey with our veterans. As you ponder our discussion, please share your ideas or personal experiences that have been important for you and the veteran in ensuring they have “returned home.”

Next week, we will have a conversation on the Gulf War. Until then…