“Sometimes it’s the Journey That Teaches You About the Destination” – Drake
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
These words proved to be quite prophetic about my own soul care journey that began nearly eight months ago. As a social work graduate student, I was presented and blessed with the opportunity to do an internship at Faith Harbor United Methodist Church in Surf City, North Carolina. This internship would task me with determining how Faith Harbor could use the Soul Care Initiative, developed by David Smith, in caring for the souls and moral injuries of their veterans. I realized from the start that this was a special and sacred task and one not to be taken lightly. A plan would be needed; a systematic plan to determine what needs could be addressed based upon input from Faith Harbor’s members, community leaders, local pastors, and veterans.
Over eight months of research the needs of our veterans became apparent and great, none more so than their spiritual and moral injuries. What remains, however, is a plan to address those needs. Creating a plan proved difficult because the Soul Care Initiative is not a program, nor is it a self-help group, or a 12-step recovery program; it is a ministry. This ministry would require greater thought than just opening up the doors and expecting veterans to come to us for help.
Veterans are reluctant to seek help; as members of the military culture, they pride themselves on self-reliance and strength. Reaching out to others and asking for help is very difficult for them; if they are experiencing spiritual or moral injuries, they are even more reluctant to enter a house of God for help. Compounding these issues, veterans prefer getting support from peers rather than organizations. So, the question remains, “How can Faith Harbor and the Soul Care Initiative make a difference in their lives?”
The answer lies in our ability to shape the social response of their return. Every veteran returns home with their own unique experience… their own story. While in the military, they are with people who understand them, rely upon them, and have shared experiences. Upon their return, they rejoin their families and their communities who have their own version of their experience, of their story, clearly laid out in their heads, a “hero” or a “zero.” The challenge is in weaving these stories, their narrators, and the listeners together to create understanding, compassion, and grace.
THE CHALLENGES IN THE VETERAN COMMUNITY
Compounding these different narratives are the mental, spiritual, physical, and moral disorders many veterans experience. According to the Department of Defense, 30% of veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are diagnosed with PTSD, 10% with major depression, and 25% experience substance abuse problems. (Bragin 2010) Many of these issues are combined and difficult to treat. Moreover, treatment is not always available to those who need it the most.
There is an assumption in the community that all veterans receive very generous healthcare benefits, but this is not the case. Depending upon the type of discharge, you may or may not be eligible for VA benefits. Even when you are, many veterans express the long VA wait times (some as long as 6 months) and distance to facility (2.25 hours from Surf City, NC to Fayetteville, NC), and cost of transportation as barriers to obtaining services.
This is where communities can help and this is where Soul Care begins. Since war affects society as a whole, society must work to understand the veteran experience and that their experience is not disconnected from the community. “Civilians in the U.S. often forget that these are their wars as well as those of the people who volunteer to fight them.” (Bowling and Sherman 2008). In order to understand we must first learn. As such, the first part of Faith Harbor’s Soul Care ministry will be to educate its membership and the community at large by holding educational workshops and inviting veteran guest speakers willing to share their stories. Next, will be the formation of veteran-to-veteran peer groups and the establishment of sacred space for veterans to come, find peace, and heal. Finally, a directory will be compiled by a committee of “Soul Keepers,” tasked with creating relationships with community resources, but the directory will hopefully take the form of an App that can be downloaded to any smart phone, tablet, or computer.
According to the Veterans Affairs website, nearly 60% of our returning veterans are Millennials and Millennials use technology to retrieve information whether it’s the news or resources. Therefore, the initiative is to reach this population where they are, and this is perhaps one of the most important things I’ve learned from this internship; you have to reach out and help others where they are and not where you expect them to be.
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
This journey has been an amazing experience and the destination is not yet fully complete. However, one thing has become crystal clear we cannot, and should not expect the government alone to heal these wounds. Rather, it is the community that must “support veterans and their families as they integrate their disparate narratives with those of the larger society and take their place within it.” (Bowling and Sherman 2008)
For more information on this article, please contact Arness M. Krause at amk8042(at)uncw.edu.
Bowling,U.B. and Sherman, M. D. (2008). Welcoming them home: supporting service
Members and their families in navigating the risks of reintegration. Professional
Psychology: Research and Practice, Vol. 39:4 (pp. 451-458)
U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, Data and Statistics, https://www.va.gov/vetdata/