Posts tagged " faith community response "

Soul Care Conversation (Caregiver)

August 24th, 2017 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation 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!)

In previous conversations we have explored the challenges of the veteran returning from war. We determined that the effects of trauma and moral injury on the warrior’s bodies, minds, and spirits, are profound. We understand that the transition from warrior to civilian can be overwhelming. These may appear as insurmountable obstacles.

Beyond the most telling hardships on our returning warriors, the transition home from combat effects the family as well. All of these factors are compounded when the returning veteran has been wounded, whether physically, psychologically, or spiritually.

BACKGROUND

Because of a trauma experience, many of our returning warriors have lingering fear. Some struggle with a moral injury resulting in guilt or shame from ethical and moral challenges that they faced. Some a soul wound so deep that they feel broken and hopeless. Often, it is a family member or friend who becomes the caregiver.

In our conversation this month, we will explore the numerous challenges the caregiver faces. We will discuss in some detail the following:

  • reintegration
  • injury
  • support

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, and the fuller context of the service member’s life.

Reintegration can be a turbulent time for the family, as members must re-form into a functioning team. The re-deployment “honeymoon” may last 4-9 months, and then relationship stress and negative family functions usually reach a peak. One of the greatest challenges for the family appears to be renegotiating family roles as the veteran encounters the often-unexpected difficulty of fitting into a home routine that has likely changed a great deal since his or her departure.

Typically, over the course of one or more deployments, the at-home parent and children assume new responsibilities. While the veteran was deployed the spouse took on many of the roles the warrior accomplished prior, such as paying bills, disciplining the children, repairing the car.  Now that the veteran has returned, the veteran may desire to take back the responsibilities. This can cause conflict.

Also, the family may have to find a “new normal.” Neither the returning warrior, spouse, nor children may be the same persons they were prior to the deployment. Because of the experience of war for the veteran and separation for the family members, each person may exhibit subtle changes at first, but drastic personality changes surface such as fear, loneliness, isolation, anger, pain, and depression follow.

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 and also allow for the veteran and family to engage conflict well.

The challenges of reintegration are drastically compounded when the warrior has been wounded.

Injury – The Post 9/11 wars will have long term affects for decades due to the young age of our troopers. Of the over 50,000 serious wounds, a large percentage are brain or spinal injuries. The total excludes psychological injuries. U.S. veterans with serious mental health problems – 30% of U.S. troops develop serious mental health problems within 3 to 4 months of returning home.

The one aspect that these statistics do not reflect, those who experienced the wounding of the soul. Department of Defense nor the Veterans Administration have collected data on those warriors who have experienced spiritual or soul wounds.

Support – An additional statistic that we must address, the caregiver. There are 5.5 million caregivers who are family members or friends of a wounded veteran, 1.1 million from the Post 9/11 wars alone. These persons provide 24/7, 365 days a year care to their loved one. (Statistic from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation report.)

The duties of a caregiver to the veteran might include:

  • managing medications
  • helping to bath or dress
  • taking care of household chores, making meals, paying bills
  • providing transportation to medical appointments
  • being the emotional support system for the veteran

The strain associated with caring for a wounded veteran may result in stress for the caregiver. To provide for a wounded warrior proves to be both a huge physical and mental strain. In fact, the mental strain can be so demanding that the caregiver her/himself risk at becoming a casualty as well; tension, anxiety, worry, pressure, depression, and fatigue. Another factor often overlooked, in order for the family member to provide 24/7 care, the caregiver must stop working outside the home thus contributing to possibly an already difficult financial situation. This also effects the caregiver’s self-esteem and well-being.

The physical, financial and emotional consequences for the family caregiver can be overwhelming. Where can the caregiver find support?

IMPLICTIONS FOR THE FAITH COMMUNITY

Who provides them care? Who do caregivers turn to for support? The Dole Foundation discovered through a survey that over 90% of the caregivers turn to the faith community for support. (Statistic from the Elizabeth Dole Foundation.)

If a caregiver knocks on your door, how will you respond? In order for individuals to respond effectively, there are several key preliminary components to consider:

  • knowledge of military culture and military family dynamics
  • appreciate the challenges of transition from not only military to civilian life, but from the battlefield to the bedroom, and from the unit to community
  • understand the context of war
  • know what resources are available in your community for the veteran and family

Each of these components become the building blocks for the faith community to begin to build relationships with the veteran and caregiver. Now that you have been approached for your support and you have initiated developing a relationship, you can take the next step, determine the need.

It is important to realize that caregivers can be overwhelmed with their situation. Most often they will ask for:

  • someone to take their wounded veteran to medical appointments, or watch their children while they take them to the appointment
  • a person to do home or car repairs
  • mow the grass or shovel snow

However, there are two other services the caregiver will rarely seek help for:

  • respite
  • support

Respite – Most likely the caregiver will not even consider respite. The caregiver’s attention is on their loved one, not themselves. However, respite will provide long term benefits. Without respite, caregivers may face serious health and social risks as a result of stress. Respite provides the much needed temporary break from the exhausting challenges faced by the caregiver.

The faith community can prove supportive in this need. Train volunteers to provide care to wounded veterans, with the following skills:

  • give medications
  • listen without judgement
  • knowledge of CPR

Support – Caregivers do not take the time to reach out to others because they think they cannot find the time to be away from their loved one. However, social support becomes a critical component in caregiver care. Peer support groups have provided caregivers a great source of comfort knowing that they are not alone, that others share similar situations, and that there are resources available.

The faith community can extend hospitality by opening their facilities for a caregiver support group. However, the faith community must extend their hospitality beyond opening the facility. They could also consider the following:

  • provide a trained volunteer to be with the wounded veteran while the caregiver is at group, or offer a wounded veteran group meeting at the same time and location
  • offer child care during group meetings
  • if a pastoral counselor is on staff, have that person available as a resource

The faith community can truly be a place of grace where the wounded veteran and caregiver feel safe to share their feelings.

The faith community does not need to do this alone. Begin networking with resources on line such as https://milvetcaregivernetwork.org/, http://militaryoneclick.com/15-organizations-godsends-military-caregivers/, and https://www.elizabethdolefoundation.org/.

We have learned the wounds of war are contagious as they affect the warriors, their families, the caregiver, and the communities. Thank you for joining this important conversation as we explored the support and services our veterans and their families need in order not just to survive, but thrive in ways meaningful to them.

 

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Creating Space)

October 27th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation 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 third response available to the faith community as we discussed seeking a restorative path. This week, we will look at the fourth response available to the faith community, create space.

BACKGROUND 

A faith community’s priority in mission and ministry should be extending hospitality. What comes to mind when you think of hospitality? Entertaining family and friends? A chore because it demands commitment, but has no lasting results? Martha Stewart? Or, something that brings joy and deep relationships?

For the faith community, hospitality reflects God’s response to a broken world as it becomes the means by which God’s healing strategy is lived out through the witness and work of God’s people. A faith community that lives this role will warmly welcome the veteran and the veteran’s family into the midst and life of the congregation. More importantly, hospitality opens the faith community to the possibilities to be a community of support, healing and well-being.

One of the aspects central to the warrior and her/his family is community. There is a special bond between brothers and sisters in arms, and between military families, in part because of the sacrifice required to serve. This bond extends not only through the support of each other during daily routine activities, but I would offer, even to the point of “laying down their life for their friend.” This is truly community!

When a warrior separates from military service, he or she experiences a loss of community. This loss can be difficult and at times overwhelming. Who or where can the veteran turn for a sense of community? Where can the veteran find persons ready to be supportive, caring, and committed during daily routine activities and the times of challenge?

The faith community can provide this critical function. In the true sense of hospitality, the faith community can provide a friendly reception to the veteran. But hospitality goes much deeper. The faith community can develop a loving and supportive relationship with the veteran and his/her family. Social support becomes a critical component in veteran care. The faith community does this by creating space.

CREATING SPACE 

Hospitality in the ancient world focused on the alien or stranger in need. Hospitality meant graciously receiving an alien or stranger into one’s home or community. It also meant providing directly for that person’s needs. It directly involves creating space.

The story of Abraham points to how God can use the faith community to touch lives in a powerful way. Abraham created space through hospitality by; (Genesis 18:2-8)

  • engaging actively  – He did not wait for the visitors to come to him, Abraham went out to meet them where they were.
  • exhibiting sincerity – Abraham was humble in conversation and action (used humble forms of address, bowed before the guests, washed their feet).
  • providing for their needs – Abraham and Sarah prepared a meal using the best ingredients.
  • committing beyond their initial encounter – Abraham walked a distance with his departing guests.

What spaces can the faith community create through hospitality that will partner with the veteran?

  • Engage actively – We meet the veteran where they are because it is where they feel safe. Safety and trust are paramount to the veteran. It would be wise to explore places where veterans meet; i.e. veteran’s day parades, VFW, American Legion, laying a wreath at a national cemetery, on the job, or at a work site. Engage actively by being interested, but do not push. Be patient.
  • Exhibit sincerity – No matter our feelings toward war or the warrior, we treat every veteran with respect as we listen to their story with our hearts, not judging them or their experiences. We validate the veteran by listening to their story, not trying to fix them. Please understand the importance of what I am about to share.  Members of the faith community CAN BE a great resource. Prayerfully contemplate the experiences of the veteran returning from war.  The stakes are high and the costs of war are very personal.  Therefore, attentive and non-judgmental listening will help the warrior in his or her spiritual journey.  For a veteran, telling even a small snippet of one’s story and feeling heard and accepted may be the first important step toward healing.  Just a few things to consider;
  1. A veteran may sometimes make politically incorrect (at least from the listener perspective) comments. If you react negatively, they may conclude you do not have the capacity to bear the brunt of their trauma story.
  2. Sometimes when listening we reply, “I understand how you feel.” A veteran rightfully believes that unless you have been in combat yourself, you can’t fully understand.
  3. Often when telling a war story, the warrior may use a string of 4 letter words. Important not to interrupt and correct. You are to listen to their sacred story.
  4. A veteran may appear angry. The veteran’s anger is not directed toward you.
  5. Don’t change the story. It sends the wrong signal, you are not interested. This is their story.  By understanding their story in the context of spiritual meaning, we then can relate to the person not the war.  This is the most important step toward exhibiting sincerity.
  • Providing for their needs – Whatever that may be, we give the veteran our best effort and resources. We give the veteran our time. We provide the veteran a safe place for worship, fellowship, and service. We offer pastoral and congregational care, if asked. If they feel the Veterans Administration has not been responsive, we offer to walk with and work with them, if they ask.
  • Committed beyond the initial encounter – Once a relationship and trust has been developed, we walk with the veteran on their journey. We do not pass the veteran or their challenges on to someone else. When the veteran feels ready to move on the journey without us, they will let us know.

How can the faith community create space?

  1. Physical space – Faith communities can open their facilities for various veteran group meetings, such as peer support groups.  Peer support groups have provided combat veterans a great source of comfort and care.  The groups comprise of combat veterans who regularly meet to share in their story, struggle, challenges, as well as offer encouragement.  Peer support groups provide their own facilitators. Additionally, military family members have sacrificed much. Some care for their wounded loved one.  The faith community can provide needed support through group meetings and by offering child care. Be aware, the faith community can be a safe haven for the returning warrior and family. However, some veterans may not feel comfortable in the physical space of a church, temple, synagogue, or mosque because of their spiritual wounds. If this is the case, the faith community can lease, rent, or make available other space more conducive to the veteran’s needs.
  2. Resources – Faith communities that have professional counselors can make these resources available for free or at a reduced cost.  Veterans within the congregation can be a great resource through a spiritual mentoring program. A veteran, who is a spiritually mature faith community member, can be a mentor to a more inexperienced veteran. Open the doors of the church and offer “spaces of grace” where the veteran and family feel safe to share their feelings and needs.
  3. Time – A commitment in time becomes critical. Recently, I heard of a church member becoming involved with a veteran who was emotionally and spiritually struggling. The church member would drive an hour across town to take the veteran to his church, and then following services, he would take him to lunch, then back home. He did this for over a year. During the course of this year, the veteran experienced the commitment of this church member and the love and acceptance of the congregation. This veteran now feels acceptance and exhibits a spirit of hope.

As a community of faith, should we not invite and welcome strangers into our midst? Should we not be about creating space for our veterans and their families? When we create space we have an opportunity to touch the lives of our veterans in an intimate and sacred way.

Next week, we will discuss the fifth and last response of the faith community in assisting the veteran, to make meaning. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

 

 

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Seeking a Restorative Path – Practice of Restorative Justice, Accountability)

August 25th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation 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 how to assist the veteran to seek a restorative path by looking at the second practice; restorative justice. This week we will discuss the first of four principles of restorative justice, accountability.

BACKGROUND

“Restorative justice is about offender accountability, victim healing, and community safety, through mediation and dialogue whenever possible.” Dr. Mark S. Umbreit, lecture at the Center for Restorative Justice and Peacemaking, University of Minnesota School of Social Work, January 2006

Accountability in restorative justice is about creating a process that allows offenders to take responsibility for the harm created by their actions. It is also an opportunity for the community to recognize its role in contributing to the harm.

The connection to restorative justice is somewhat muddled when we link the practice with the veteran community. In the case of offender accountability, the veteran can be both the offender and a person harmed. This dichotomy can complicate the healing process. However,  we can simplify the process if we hold to two elements;

  • taking responsibility for one’s own behavior
  • taking action to repair the harm

Beyond the legal restorative justice process, accountability holds importance in our spiritual journey. God calls us to be accountable to God’s call for our lives and to be deeply connected with one another. Both the Hebrew and Christian scriptures are filled with stories of people struggling with their accountability with God, and leaning on others for personal and spiritual development and growth. From Genesis through the letters to the churches, there are stories shared about the deep connections that help people through their darkest days and assist them to see what they cannot see on their own. We know of the stories of Moses and Aaron, David and Jonathan, Paul and Barnabas, and Silas and Timothy. In all of these stories and others, men and women of faith understood the importance to re-connect with God, one another, and with community by taking responsibility for their own behavior and then taking action to repair the harm.

FAITH COMMUNITY IMPLICATIONS

There are two essential components to accountability important to veterans;

  • ability to relate
  • trust

Ability to relate…Relating is the first step in accountability. When a group shares a common bond or its members have been through similar experiences, this often opens opportunities for developing a relationship. Veterans can relate to one another. They can empathize and share with understanding. They can feel comfortable sharing their experiences of combat no matter the circumstances and can feel totally accepted without the concern of judgment or fear of rejection.

Trust…Trust is difficult for veterans, especially trusting someone outside of the veteran community. Most often, a veteran will only trust another veteran. If the faith community understands and accepts that it will be difficult to establish trust and practice patience when it comes to developing trust, a deep and lasting relationship can be formed.

In order for the veteran to express responsibility to another, there needs to be trust. Trust can be established if the faith community;

  • listens with one’s heart
  • cares for each other

Listen with one’s heart…To listen with our heart has two essential aspects; active listening (“My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19), and non-judgmental attitude (“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.” Matthew 7:1)

Care for each other…Trust is sustained through the ability to be supportive, comforting and honest. As we care for one another, we motivate those who may be struggling with similar life circumstances. (“And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister.” 1 John 4:21)

With this said, we know veterans feel more comfortable with other veterans and that they will trust another veteran readily, should we (the faith community) even try to pursue restorative justice through accountability?

PRACTICAL APPLICATION

The first step to accountability is for the veteran and the faith community to live out these two essential elements: the ability to relate and to trust become the framework for developing and sustaining relationships, and opens doors of opportunity for accountability.

The second step is for the veteran and the faith community to use the process of;

  • taking responsibility for one’s own behavior
  • taking action to repair the harm

It is important that both the veteran and faith community accept responsibility because both have caused harm. The veteran has been to war. Violence and killing are timeless descriptions of war. In a way, the community of faith has culpability. We collectively sent the warrior into battle. War has been regarded as a gross consequence of human failure.

There are several accountability applications that reflect taking responsibility. Both the veteran and faith community can take responsibility for their behavior and actions by facing their anger, hurt, and misunderstanding by engaging the liturgy, rites, and spiritual disciplines of confession, repentance, mourning, and forgiveness. We will look at these in more detail in a few weeks.

Veterans can begin to take responsibility by;

  • creating different goals
  • explore ways to make amends

The faith community can take responsibility by;

  • providing resources to the veteran to seek healing
  • providing education and awareness of war and its affects on individuals, families and communities

In addition, the faith community can offer spiritual mentoring. As the veteran engages with a mentor, he/she takes responsibility for their actions, but they also seek ways to repair the harm they experienced. Veteran spiritual mentoring can accomplish the following;

  • deepen and strengthen the veterans’ experience of and relationship to the Holy
  • assist the veterans to name, understand and work through the harm they caused by using spiritual perspectives and practices
  • guide veterans to take responsibility, not for all that happened to them, but how they choose to react
  • discover ways to make amends

Veteran spiritual mentors serve as guides and companions to other veterans on their journey to wholeness and healing. See Soul Care webpage for specifics on how to establish a veteran spiritual mentoring experience.

Another important step toward accountability, taking action to repair harm.

The faith community can;

  • empower the veterans to make amends
  • encourage reconciliation
  • explore spiritual practices and disciplines with veterans

Veterans can;

  • connect with a community (either a faith community, VFW, American Legion, etc.)
  • serve others (Team Rubicon, Grace Under Fire, Volunteers of America are all veteran groups serving others)
  • experience a peace walk
  • offer restitution (support a refuge charity, etc.)

These applications are only a few that will assist veterans, veteran families, and the faith community to experience support, comfort, and healing. Do you know of other applications for accountability in the faith community? Share your stories and offer your thoughts on how the faith community can journey with veterans through accountability.

Next week, we will delve into the second principle of practicing restorative justice; sharing the story. Until then, thank you for the conversation..

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Response, Seek a Restorative Path)

August 5th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

(The purpose of Soul Care Conversation 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 considered the second core response of the faith community; providing support. We discussed the use of liturgy and ritual, how to connect with community resources, and the practice of congregational and pastoral care. This week we will begin a four week discussion on how the faith community can respond by assisting the veteran to seek a restorative path. Our first topic will discuss the background of why this is important.

BACKGROUND

Walking with the injured, broken, and lost on a healing journey is a means of justice and the center of the faith community’s mission and ministry. We discussed in a previous blog the capabilities and strengths within the faith community for seeking justice. We discovered that Jesus conveys the message to be healers, peacemakers, and justice doers when faced with brokenness, emptiness, alienation, and violence. Through compassion, love, mercy, and forgiveness, Jesus models how to transform lives and restore dignity and purpose to the injured, broken and lost.

Jesus’ message focused on something radically different; those who know God’s mercy must share it with others. Jesus instructs his followers to do the same. The God of restorative justice works in and through the faith community to bring healing and wholeness.

In Hebrew the word for justice is “mishpat”, it means caring for those most in need within a society. Our communities have many who are in need. During this last year we have established the fact that the veteran community has many distinctive challenges. We also determined that the faith community is uniquely positioned to provide support and care.

How can the faith community seek a restorative path for the veteran and the veteran’s family? For the  veteran community, seeking a restorative path can include any or all three practices;

  • trauma awareness and healing
  • restorative justice
  • conflict transformation

THE NEED IS GREAT

War’s violence press questions of faith into the lives of those who fight them.  When a warrior steps onto the battlefield he or she immediately is confronted by the kinds of horror and hardships that has moved humanity through the centuries to reach for the Holy. Many of our returning warriors have lingering fear from their experiences resulting in Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Some also struggle with guilt or shame from ethical and moral challenges that they faced resulting in moral injury. Others feel broken and hopeless so much that they agonize from a soul wound.

For many veterans, the war does not end when they come home. Most veterans who experience some form of trauma while in combat will exacerbate their trauma by making poor choices after their return home. It is a daily battle against an enemy who attacks the mind and spirit. Because of combat trauma, veterans are more vulnerable to experience a soul wound that may lead to self-medication, homelessness, and suicide.

As of 2014, the Veterans Administration estimated that there are 22 million veterans in the US. If you add the 1.4 million serving in military service to the veteran population, 7.4% of US citizens have or are serving. This is significant. Our neighbor may be a veteran or active service member and we do not know that they are because;

  • the veteran has not identified him or herself as a veteran for various reasons
  • the faith community does not know how to recognize that they are veterans or active military, or they lack empathy

Let’s look at each of these variables.

Veteran has not identified her or himself as a veteran – Understanding this reality will assist the faith community in its approach to the veteran community. Some of the reasons veterans are reluctant to identify themselves as veterans are;

  • do not desire to be labeled a hero or zero
  • do not want recognition
  • do not want special considerations
  • do not want to be set apart
  • concern for being judged
  • concern for their personal and family safety

Faith community does not know how to recognize veterans or lacks empathy – Some reasons may be;

  • unaware of military/veteran cultural identity
  • struggle with the realities of war and it’s complicity
  • does not desire to compromise its “moral standard”
  • does not feel “qualified” or has the skills to provide the required care and support
  • does not know where to start
  • does not really care (the warrior volunteered to serve, this was their choice…)

The result of this dynamic is that the veteran community is an under-served demographic often overlooked by the faith community in mission and ministry.

BRINGING LIGHT INTO THE DARK PLACES

The veteran community challenges are diverse and complex. The faith community can role model the ways to seek justice by caring for those in need as a way to restore relationships and support reconciliation.  Seeking justice alongside veterans and their families can be a way for communities of faith to more deeply explore and understand their needs.

So, how can the faith community bring light into the dark places where many of our veterans experience life? How can we journey with our veterans on a path toward healing, justice, and restoration? How can we explore the places and the processes that can bring light to those who struggle in the darkness of their souls? A warrior returning from war leaves the life of danger in combat only to experience a life of uncertainty at home.

By offering opportunities to seek a restorative path, the faith community extends to the veteran possibilities for healing and restoration by being;

  • a place where the veteran can share the troubling experiences of war
  • a place where the veteran can explore the difficult questions of faith
  • a place where the veteran can question, grow, and gain resiliency
  • a place where the veteran can experience community

Are there other ways? What have you done to seek justice with the veteran community? Next week, we will look at the first practice to seek justice; trauma awareness and healing. Until then, thank you for the conversation…