Posts tagged " soul care "

“Caregiver, a Personal Story,” by Sharon Cooney

August 28th, 2017 Posted by Blog 7 comments

As an ex-wife who met and married him after his last deployment to Southeast Asia, I lived the whole PTSD spectrum without any assistance. He refused any psychological treatment because it would have meant that he was “crazy”. I experienced the nights of fighting the battles again (and he was Air Force, flying KC135s and F4s); during these, I received slugs that resulted in bruises.


He was passed over for rank and got out of the military. Over the next 12 years he was employed in a variety positions – a few he “quit” and some from which he was fired. I supported him through these times but our relationship began to suffer. Communication between us was deteriorating. His verbal, emotional and psychological abuse continued and slowly escalated. And his alcohol intake slowly increased.


He began to blame me for everything in his life that went wrong and to accuse me of doing things that I did not do. I kept our sons involved in activities so that we were not home much. Being home was a delicate balance of walking on eggs, never knowing what would set him off. Something would cause a major blow up and then doing the exact opposite the next day also resulted in a major blow up. Many of these were directed at our youngest son; many times I would physically get between the two to prevent him harming the child.


Because I had been an independent woman prior to marriage, he never could control me. Over time he started to brainwash our youngest son to believe that I was the cause of all the family problems. This child became the other adult in his relationship, and not me.


I had no one in whom I could confide. I thought that people would think that I was making it up or maybe I was crazy. To maintain my sanity and sense of worth, I got involved volunteering in activities in which my boys participated. One day as I was teaching about substance abuse and posttraumatic stress to nursing students, I realized that I was living with a person who was abusing alcohol because of his PTSD from Viet Nam. About that same time, a student project about abuse opened my eyes to reality of my home life. I was not the problem.


I began to seek help for me and us. He continued to refuse treatment for PTSD, alcohol abuse, and our marriage. The marriage finally dissolved.


Once the divorce process started, it lasted just over 15 years – because he refused to comply to property division. But the divorce freed me to become a whole different person. I traveled, moved to the beach, became active in my nursing profession which lead to involvement with the student association, and most important, teaching nursing. My experience with him prepared me for helping students whose significant others threatened harm and who were in the process of divorce or breakup or dealing with substance abuse.


My support system gave me the strength to hold my head up and continue to fight for my sanity and safety. They included different groups of people from many areas in my community (church, neighbors, working colleagues, volunteer groups I belonged to, friends, and of course, my family). I learned that people who really cared listened without judgment, allowed me to cry, and just hugged me; I learned to identify those who did not want to “get involved” by the horror on their faces as I began my story. I distanced myself from those; I did not need their negativity.


At the time I was going through the “dark tunnel”, I wondered “Why me?” Now I can see that it was to allow me to be a support for my students and my friends when they needed someone who knew what to say and do. I mirror what helped me traverse the journey as I was going through it – I listen when they need to vent, hold them as they cry, and freely give hugs.


If you are in a similar journey,

  • You are a person of worth
  • Do not identify yourself with your situation
  • Hold your head up
  • Ascertain your support system – clergy, friends at church, neighbors, family, colleagues at work, whomever
  • Share your story with them
  • Tell your supporters what you need and let them do it for you
  • Seek help from your health care provider
  • Identify your happy place – where you get your strength and spend as much time there as you can
  • When you encounter negativity, avoid that person


The people that were my best support were

  • My parents who let me travel with them during my summer breaks from teaching
  • The ladies in my church circle – we had a spring and fall retreat to the beach over a number of years; I get my strength from time at the beach
  • My faculty and clinical area nursing colleagues and medical staff who asked how I was doing and listened when I had to vent
  • Church friends who willingly listened when I needed to talk and cry


I found my support system and used them for years. I spent as much time as I could at my happy place – the beach – until I moved there. Now I can go as much as I want every day and every time I find the peace and strength I need to continue moving forward. I no longer look back because I do not live there anymore.

Soul Care: Day of Learning, by Pat Litzinger

August 28th, 2017 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

United Methodist clergy and laity representing 18 different churches from Harbor District in the North Carolina Conference of The United Methodist Church attended the SOUL CARE Day of Learning on August 5th at Harbor UMC in Wilmington, NC.  Facilitator and retired U.S. Army Chaplain (Col.) David Smith led the training which was focused on equipping churches to start or expand ministries which reach out to those in the military community (active duty and veterans).

Home to multiple major military installations, North Carolina has one of the highest concentrations of military veterans and active duty personnel in the United States.  After Harbor District’s Mission Strategy Team identified “Care and Support to Military Veterans and Active Duty’ as one of the district’s 12 most critical missional needs, the churches of Harbor District (located across a 9 county area of southeastern North Carolina) are interested in what they can do to more effectively reach out to this large demographic.

The August 5th Day of Learning included training from Chaplain Smith on topics such as:

  • Understanding military culture
  • Challenges that military members and their families face
  • Reaching out/building relationships with vets/active duty
  • Spiritual care needs of vets/active duty
  • The role that churches can play related to spiritual recovery

A working lunch round table session was also conducted which featured a panel of representatives from multiple local organizations which serve the military community in the Harbor District.   Attendees were able to receive helpful information from these organizations including the volunteer opportunities with which their church members can plug into/connect.  Panel members also answered questions regarding their organization’s specific mission focus and services.

Following lunch Chaplain Smith highlighted a number of best practices including a SOUL CARE ministry at one of Harbor District’s churches – Faith Harbor United Methodist Church.   Arness Krause, Faith Harbor United Methodist Church’s Soul Care ministry coordinator, was on hand to share how the church got started with their SOUL CARE ministry and what it looks like today.  She also shared some tips/lessons learned with the group.

Based on post event comments from attendees, they left the training inspired and equipped with helpful information and resources.  Follow on work in the district will be led by Harbor District’s Military Community Outreach Advisory Team (MCOAT).   MCOAT’s mission is to equip and inspire churches in the Harbor District to share the love of Christ with military veterans and members through outreach, prayer, relationship building and acts of kindness and gratitude.

Soul Care Journey, by Arness Krause

March 14th, 2017 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

“Sometimes it’s the Journey That Teaches You About the Destination” – Drake


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.


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.


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)


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,

Transforming Community through the Lens of Soul Care

May 6th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

How then do we transform community? We put our neighbor’s interest before our own. We even go as far as laying down our life for our neighbor (John 15:13). This is a radical relationship! Veterans understand connectedness through radical relationships where each day, whether on the battlefield or at home station, they put others first by living out the ethos of duty, honor, respect, and selfless service; not only for country, but for the oppressed, and for their battle buddy.

Honoring Relationships

April 7th, 2016 Posted by Blog 1 comment

Critical to hospitality is honoring relationships. By honoring a relationship with a veteran we then can begin to understand our connectedness as God’s children and we can transcend our biases and pre-conceived notions about the person. We then can relate to the person, not the war. By honoring relationship with a veteran, we can become a catalyst for the veteran to find meaning. If we do this, we become people of grace.

Welcoming Conversations with Veterans

March 8th, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

Those that are committed to a mission and ministry to veterans should 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 struggle. 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.

Engaging Conflict through the Lens of Soul Care

February 3rd, 2016 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

Chaplain Dave Smith


On January 11, 2016, David Anderson Hooker began a four month blog conversation on the core principles that define the approach that JustPeace takes when entering into congregational, community, and denominational conflicts. These principles include;

  1. Engaging Conflict
  2. Welcoming Conversation
  3. Honoring Relationships
  4. Transforming Community

David kicked off our conversation by addressing the first core principle: engaging conflict. He challenged us to consider why and how to engage conflict as individuals, faith communities, and within the world community. How can we engage conflict well? David provides the foundation when he stated, “In order to engage conflict we must first acknowledge that: People are not the problem; the problem is the problem.”


So, what is the problem? Extreme stress! The effects of war impact the whole person, the whole family, and the whole world community. For our conversation, we will briefly look at each of these in how soul wounds affect how we deal with conflict.

Our warriors’ mission is to ensure US security and maintain peace. To accomplish this they are purposely placed at the very center of conflict as they engage in combat operations and/or humanitarian assistance missions. Both require our warriors to live and work in environments of extreme stress.

Military training and combat operations have one big thing in common – survival. In previous blogs, we determined that while in combat, certain circumstances threaten the physicalmentalbehavioral, and spiritual health of the warrior. Post-traumatic stress or deployment-related stress are normal reactions of normal people to extreme and life threatening events. It is part of the human survival response. Warriors often experience during a combat deployment intense fear, panic, confusion, helplessness and even horror. Extreme stress deeply affects the warrior.

After the warrior has returned from war, extreme stress remains ever present as the veteran feels like he or she is still at “war.” Veterans carry the edge of hyper-vigilance, grieve the loss of the close bond with a battle buddy and the loss of doing something that holds significance, and find themselves in a slower pace of living. It is difficult to shed the warrior mentality, to let go of the behaviors that kept the warrior alive while in combat.

The extreme stress of combat lingers and may cause several symptom patterns: restlessness, difficulty concentrating, guilt, anxiety, irritability, and hyper-vigilance. These can threaten the veteran’s health if not managed appropriately. When these symptoms linger for months they can also lead to other illnesses or behavior issues such as depression, PTSD, addiction, abuse, and suicide.

These symptoms are at the heart of the inner-conflict, wounds of the soul. But they also become part of how the veteran relates to those around them. How the veteran works through the symptoms of extreme stress will enhance not only how they deal with their inner-conflict, but also how they engage conflict with others.


How can we engage conflict?

Now that the warrior is home, not only will the veteran have to process their personal experiences of war and deal with their inner-conflict, they will also have to face numerous reintegration challenges with their family and community. Reintegration is characterized by the veteran’s returning to his or her daily life as experienced prior to deployment.  Reintegration can be a turbulent time for the veteran and the family, as members must re-form into a functioning system. One of the greatest challenges 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. This can cause conflict.

In earlier blogs, we looked at some of the challenges of reintegration and transition that the veteran and family may experience. We reviewed each family entity; veteranspouse, and the children. It is understandable that the transition from warrior to civilian can be overwhelming. On top of the challenges experiencing extreme stress while at war, the returning warrior now faces the stress of transition and reintegration. These may appear as insurmountable obstacles.

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 engage conflict well.


How can we engage conflict?

The trauma of war is a story of the whole community to include the faith community. As we all bear witness to each other’s story we form a foundation for engaging conflict. We begin to develop skills to listen with our hearts, not only our ears. As we listen with our hearts, we accept responsibility for our veteran’s wounds and we open ourselves to being a catalyst of grace.

How can we do this? Our warriors and veterans need our collective forgiveness for what they did and what they saw in the name of freedom and security. They need our support and participation to find meaning, purpose, healing and restoration. As a nation and faith community we must journey with each of our veterans through their pain, grief, loss, guilt and shame. Our veterans seek our acceptance and understanding for the horrors they witnessed and the horrors they committed.

Additionally, our veterans need to forgive us, we who sent them to war to do our nation’s bidding. Each of us must take responsibility in that we could not engage conflict well in the world community.

The faith community has a critical role. At the core of a person is their soul, that which gives a person meaning. When the soul is in anguish, this can become a spiritual scar that can be identified as a “soul wound.” Soul wounds produce guilt and shame. However, a soul wound goes much deeper because the battlefield strips away the warrior’s belief system so that at the very core of the wound is the feeling of brokenness and hopelessness. In fact, the feeling to the warrior is that their soul has left them.

What can the faith community do to understand these challenges and journey with our veterans toward healing? The veteran’s story is sacred as is the faith community’s story. By understanding the veteran’s story in the context of the spiritual meaning within a particular faith community context, we then can relate to the person, not the war.  This is the most important step toward developing a relationship of trust with the veteran and their family. The faith community can role model this technique for engaging conflict.

How can we engage conflict through the lens of soul care?

  1. By understanding that our veterans experience extreme stress while at war
  2. Through awareness of the challenges of transition and reintegration returning home
  3. By accepting responsibility as a community in nurture and support

If you desire to be engaged in conversation on these challenges and discuss possible strategies of care, please see the Soul Care Conversation on the website at, click on blog.




Soul Care Conversation (PTSD)

January 28th, 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!)

We have been having a conversation for several weeks about the effects of trauma on the whole person. We have determined that the effects of trauma on our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, are profound. Last week, we looked at three distinctive and yet similar war injuries that have spiritual implications; PTSD, moral injury and soul wounds. This week we will focus specifically on PTSD.


It is important to note that there is much more to our veterans than PTSD.  The politicians, press, and advocacy groups tend to focus on our veterans who return from war wounded, having a difficult time adjusting to their new civilian life.  In fact, I have heard our combat veterans labeled by the press or others as either heroes or broken. Often Americans do not understand most of our veterans are not wounded and many have successfully navigated the transition to civilian life. Even those who have been diagnosed with PTSD make an enormous contribution in their communities.

However, many of our veterans have experienced deep physical, psychological and spiritual wounds. Since 9/11, the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Veterans Administration (VA) made progress in the traditional treatments for veterans who have been wounded. Recently, the Washington Post described alternative therapies for veteran well-being that the VA has explored as part of a treatment regimen to include;

  • equine therapy
  • alpha stimulation
  • guided imagery
  • yoga
  • hypnosis
  • aqua therapy
  • Botox

War-related conditions simultaneously threaten the body, mind and spirit causing a full range of symptoms that effect the whole person. One of these symptoms is PTSD. David Wood in his article for the Huffington Post, “Iraq, Afghanistan War Wounded Pass 50,000”, 25 October 2012, states that there are over 4,000 new cases of PTSD each month. This is a significant statistic that demands our nation’s attention in providing long term care.


We have stated previously that trauma changes the person.  It is not that we are worse, but we are different.  Post-traumatic stress or deployment-related stress are normal reactions of normal people to extreme and life threatening events. It is part of the human survival response. Warriors often experience during a combat deployment intense fear, panic, confusion, helplessness and even horror.

During the American Civil War, soldiers experienced anxiety and depression. It was referred to as “soldier’s heart”. During World War I, veterans experienced “shell shock”. “Battle fatigue” or “war neurosis” were the terms used during World War II. It was not until after the Vietnam War that the American Psychiatric Association listed combat trauma as an official diagnosis. Additionally, after the studies on Vietnam veterans and now the in-depth studies on veterans of the Post 9/11 Wars; thousands of veterans who struggle with nightmares, insomnia, anger, isolation, and addictions, no longer are written off as failures, malingerers, or shirkers. Therefore, PTSD is an officially recognized mental illness.

For this conversation, we will not delve into the neuro-anatomy effects of PTSD on the brain except to say that when a person experiences trauma, there are three areas of the brain that are altered;

  • prefrontal cortex
  • amygdala
  • hippocampus

These brain functions affect the fear response, memory, and emotions of a person.

Also, we will not take a deep dive into the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders to investigate all of the formal diagnoses. What is important to understand is that a formal diagnosis of PTSD requires a warrior to experience symptoms in five different categories (as per the US Department of Veteran Affairs National Center for PTSD);

  • stressor (exposed to death, threatened death, actual or threatened serious injury, or actual or threatened sexual violence)
  • intrusion symptoms (recurrent, involuntary, intrusive memories; traumatic nightmares; dissociative reactions; intense or prolonged distress; marked physiological re-activity after exposure to related stimuli)
  • avoidance (of trauma related thoughts or feelings, trauma related external reminders such as people, places, conversations, activities)
  • negative alterations in cognitions and mood (inability to recall features of traumatic event, persistent negative beliefs and expectations of self, persistent distorted blame, markedly diminished interest in significant activities, feeling alienated from others, persistent ability to experience positive emotions)
  • alterations in arousal and activity (irritable or aggressive behavior, self-destructive or reckless behavior, hyper-vigilance, exaggerated startle response, problems in concentration, sleep disturbance)

There are four additional criterion that further defines a diagnosis, but most important is the duration (persistence of symptoms longer than one month).


Many forms of psychotherapy have been used with our veterans diagnosed with PTSD. Those that have exhibited a track record of success include;

  • cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)
  • cognitive process therapy (CPT)
  • eye movement desensitization and reprocessing
  • exposure therapy

For one year, I was part of a trial program, PTSD Pathways, at Fort Belvoir. The program modules included psycho-education, CBT and CPT, relaxation techniques, relationships and coping, and post-traumatic growth. The program also included a weekly group process as well as one-on-one counseling with a therapist. The PTSD Pathways proved somewhat beneficial in my initial healing. More on this later.

The VA and DoD also have used additional therapies as reported by the Washington Post (see above). Also, our warriors have been treated with medication(s). Some of our veterans recover on their own. Some, even after therapy and medications, still linger in pain. Why?


From my personal observations and experiences a part of our veteran well-being that is under-served is the spiritual component. Why is this important? Our returning veterans face a deep spiritual crisis, not generally in public view.

The battlefield became a test of the soul for our warriors as they experienced life threatening events. After a near death experience, death haunts a veteran’s life. The ongoing realities of death linger deep in the soul. Trauma is suffering that will not go away. The aftermath of trauma challenges the veteran to overcome fear and to find meaning. These all have spiritual implications.

As trauma affects the body and mind, it also affects the spirit. Soul care should be an integral part of our veteran’s journey toward healing.

This concludes this week’s conversation on PTSD. Next week, we will discuss in some detail moral injury. Until next week, thank you for the conversation…

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.


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)


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…

Soul Care Conversation (Context of War – Korea)

September 30th, 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, we began our conversation on the context of war with a general overview. Why is this important?


It is easy for our country to put the reality of war behind it once combat operations has concluded. For our nation, war is about:

  • national defense
  • strategic and geopolitical calculations
  • patriotic implications

For the warrior, it may be difficult to put behind what has happened during war because it is intensely personal. War for the warrior is about:

  • courage and honor
  • pain and suffering
  • sorrow and tragedy

What is missing is a clear understanding of what our nation has required of it’s sons and daughters who served during war. The warrior’s concerns are not the fulfillment of national goals, but survival and protecting his/her battle buddy. Our warrior’s departed from their civilian lives to do the remarkable, often distasteful, and always dangerous things while in combat.

These are the reasons we must look at the context of war:

  • between the tension of  what our nation requires of its warriors and what our warriors experience in war, gaps of understanding often result
  • there is a correlation between changing strategic military objectives and the likelihood of accomplishing them with the number of US casualties to public support of the war
  • the debate at home often influences the morale of the warrior
  • lastly, once home the veteran may still be at “war”

So, we will begin with the Korean War. This is not intended to slight those who fought in World War II. We have so few World War II veterans who remain active in our communities. However, we remember their courage and sacrifice in most US towns and villages with a war monument. We honor those who died serving in Europe and the Pacific in 14 overseas cemeteries. We recognize the living during anniversaries of significant battles. Thank you to our World War II veterans!


Following World War II, the US was recognized as a dominant power and with that came responsibilities. The Marshall Plan provided economic aid in order to restore our former enemy, but more importantly, to develop an ally. Treaty commitments were negotiated and formed. All of this was out of response to a perceived threat, communist aggression. A new kind of war began, a “cold war.”

Another factor that set the stage for our involvement in Korea was the division of the world following World War II. The victors, Soviet Union, US, United Kingdom, France among others established agreed upon zones of influence. The US and the Soviet Union agreed to a temporary division of the Korean peninsula along the 38th parallel, where the Soviets would occupy the north and the US the south.

Additionally, the already high tensions between the Soviet Union and the US, and a series of miscalculations, resulted in the North Koreans invading the south on 25 June 1950. These miscalculations included:

  • US never claimed it would defend Korea
  • North Korean, Chinese, and Soviet Union did not believe the US could defend the south
  • Communist Chinese growing strength

Within a week the US and the United Nations resolved to protect the South Korean government and its people, and thwart the aggression of the North Koreans.

The Korean War was an undeclared military action. Several thoughts:

  • initially described by President Harry S. Truman as a “police action”
  • has been referred to as the “The Forgotten War”
  • American politics influenced the strategic considerations prior to US involvement and during the war

In relation to the global scale of World War II which preceded it, the Korean War received little attention in the US. However, nearly 37,000 warriors would die in Korea and over 100,000 wounded.  Families at home would morn, but the country at large failed to recognize the scale and cost of the war.

In the first weeks of the war, a Gallup poll suggested that 81% of Americans supports the war.  There was little criticism.

This mood of confidence quickly eroded due to set backs in the conduct of the war.  US politicians began debating the conduct of the war and its aims.  In a year, a stalemate seemed accepted by the public.

Lastly and not surprisingly, the debate at home influenced the attitudes of the warriors.  With the strategic goals shifting to negotiating a truce along the same lines as when the war began a comment like, “No one wants to die for a tie” became prevalent.

(Above information largely taken from Those who have Borne the Battle, Wright)


Understanding the cultural and political context helps put into perspective the mindset of the veteran who fought in a “forgotten war.” I have heard stories from Korean and Vietnam veterans who after they returned from war would go to the American Legion or Veterans of Foreign Wars posts only to be told by World War II veterans, “We won our war, how about you?” Some veterans refused to go to a local post because they were not in a “war.” (Note, the Korean War is not over. An armistice was signed 27 July 1953 that halted combat operations.)

For many Korean War veterans, when they returned home they found the following:

  • most US citizens did not recognize that a war had taken place or that they cared
  • there were no parades honoring the veteran (it was not until 1991 that the Korean War veterans received a parade in New York City)
  • very few towns or villages put up memorials to honor those who fought and died in Korea (in fact the Korean War Memorial was dedicated 27 July 1995, 42 years after the armistice)

This is the past, but so very important to understand for today. Why? Many Korean War veterans remain bitter. Some just want to continue to forget the “forgotten war.” Others can not forget.

Our Korean War veterans are in the 80’s. Some are in hospice care and some hospitalized. They live in our communities and attend services in our faith communities.

What do we need to know? For many, they are prone to suffer from disabilities experienced from cold weather injuries. Many have unresolved guilt. Some may feel the abandonment of God. For many it may be the feeling of being on-forgivable, because of what they have done or saw while in combat. Most are proud of their service and sacrifice. And most have not shared their stories with another person, but now as they face the end of life, they may desire to do so.

What can we do? If we understand the political and cultural implications of the war, and the personal sacrifices made by the warrior, possibly we can be an integral part of the veterans’ journey in seeking a restorative path. And we can listen to their story! We listen with the heart so that through our actions of hope, love, patience, forgiveness, trust, and comfort, we live out the grace of the Divine providing remarkable healing power. If you have specific examples of what we can do, please add to the conversation.

We also can read about the war, became acquainted with the personal stories of those who sacrificed much.

Next week, we discuss the context of the Vietnam War. Until then, let’s continue the conversation…