Posts tagged " veteran care "

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 Conversation (Faith Community Response, Cultivate Awareness)

July 15th, 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 began a conversation with a new focus. We discussed the opportunities that the faith community has to respond to veteran challenges. We recognized the importance to celebrate the faith community’s strengths and capacities for care. We discovered that each is a gift that can become a part of the foundation on which you can now move to respond in developing a relationship with a veteran and their family. This week we will specifically discuss how the faith community can cultivate awareness in order to respond to the unique challenges within the veteran community.


Self-awareness is crucial to our health, happiness, and self-worth. Studies have been made, a plethora of books and papers written, and interest groups formed; all centered on the cultivation and practice of self-awareness. In fact, career coaches offer training on cultivating self-awareness. Why is self-awareness a popular topic? Self-awareness offers one balance, objectivity, and inner stability.

Additionally, cultivating self-awareness is a critical component in our spiritual journey. Awareness opens the windows of opportunity to see the truth about ourselves and our personal behavior. It starts with a feeling that something is not right. We sense that there is a disconnect between our mind and spirit.

Discernment is the first step. Then one must decide what to do with these thoughts and feelings. Even as we know the positive outcomes of self-awareness, we still find it difficult to filter through our own stuff. We may face certain truths about ourselves we do not desire to face. This process is hard work.

Self-awareness has an additional value, it opens us to possibilities of engaging in relationships with others by;

  • discovering contentment in ourselves which opens us to learning
  • desiring to find solutions rather than complain
  • identifying the triggers that create in us uncomfortable feelings and beliefs, anger, and pain that tend to cause isolation
  • creating a desire to serve others

These tools become a good foundation in developing and sustaining relationships. As it is with self-awareness, so it is the same in awareness with others. It is hard work! Often we get so bogged down in sifting through our own agendas and biases that they become impediments in developing and sustaining relationships. Understanding this dynamic will be helpful as we open ourselves to the possibilities for veteran care.


Cultivating awareness has several levels that we should discuss with regard to veteran care. Faith community members can be a great resource for veteran care. But, faith community members can also be a hindrance or an obstacle in a healing and restoration journey of veterans. What then do we need to know?

There are three levels to cultivating awareness that are important for our discussion;

  • self-awareness
  • relational awareness
  • community awareness

First, we must have self-awareness prior to engaging a veteran mission or ministry. All of us hold to personal beliefs and biases from hair styles and genres of music, to our politics and our world view. We have differing theologies on war and peace, and ideologies on the role of the military in US foreign policy. Knowing and understanding what we believe when it pertains to warriors and veterans, and US foreign policy and the use of the military will often form our thoughts and feelings that will motivate and shape our conversations. How we say or what we say in our conversations can either be helpful or hurtful.

How can we walk with one another knowing we have different personalities, priorities, and perspectives? Having self-awareness and understanding the differences between individuals will influence how we develop our relationships. Seeing ourselves through the prism of our motivations, theologies, and ideologies will help us see and understand these qualities in others. This becomes helpful in developing and sustaining relationships.

Second, as you consider a mission and ministry with veterans, it is important to consider the following relational awareness aspects;

  • conduct an inventory of why you desire to develop a relationship with a veteran (Do you have a personal agenda?)
  • pray about your thoughts and feelings toward veterans (Do you have a desire to “fix” the veteran, or just be with the veteran?)
  • consider your theology and ideology that may be different than that of a veteran (Do you desire to convert the veteran to your way of thinking or do you desire to understand the veteran’s way of thinking?)
  • contemplate the experiences of the veteran returning from war and his or her family challenges (This deep relational facet requires time and commitment. Are you willing to go the distance?)

The stakes are high and the costs of war are very personal for the veteran. As you engage in relational awareness, consider attentive and non-judgmental listening. Many veterans have experienced telling a friend or family member their war story only to be met with silence or judgment. Experiences made normal in the military may be offensive to a civilian. I like to say, “Listen with your heart, not your ears.” Deep 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.

Third, in order to journey with the veteran community, we also need to have community awareness by;

  • developing cultural competency with the military and veteran community in order to understand the unique experiences and contributions of those who served
  • discovering the resource agencies and organizations within your community that help veterans
  • exploring the challenges that the veteran must overcome in your community like homelessness and unemployment

Warriors, veterans, and their families have unique needs that require a culturally competent approach in care. It is particularly important in the veteran community. If a veteran suspects a lack of understanding, they will walk away. Veterans already feel under appreciated by the civilian population at large and this shortcoming may create an obstacle for the faith community to understand or reach the veteran’s spiritual needs.

Faith communities that have a military or veteran population have the potential to develop and sustain relationships outside the walls of their campus. Cultivating military and veteran cultural competency will prove beneficial as it will translate into the acknowledgement of the veteran’s unique experience and significance.

So, next week, we will continue this conversation on cultivating awareness as we will look at some practical steps to do so. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Assets for Veteran Care, Search for Justice)

June 9th, 2016 Posted by Blog 2 comments

(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!)

About a month ago we began a conversation with a new focus, the faith community’s strengths and capacities for veteran care. The first topic we discussed was hospitality. Next we looked at the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society. Last week, we discussed how the Eucharist may be a means toward healing and well-being. This week, we will share how the faith community can journey with the veteran in a search for justice and restoration.


Restorative justice has its origin in legal principles. It is an approach that focuses on the needs of;

  • victim
  • offender
  • community

Both the victim and the offender take an active role in the process. A dialogue ensues where the victim shares what he or she desires to be done to repair the harm and the offender takes responsibility for his or her action. The results foster victim satisfaction and offender accountability. More importantly, the results suggest the beginning of healing for both the victim and the offender.

The community has an active role as well. The community seeks to;

  • build a partnership between victim and offender
  • re-establish mutual responsibility for constructive responses
  • pursue a balanced approach to the needs of the victim and the offender

While restorative justice may have its origins in legal principles, it has as its roots the biblical concept of justice that focuses on the victim, the offender, and the community in the hope of restoring all to a sense of God’s wholeness. Several months ago, we began to develop a theology toward healing. We discussed restorative justice as a part of God’s purpose in redeeming a broken world. Justice is the basic principle upon which God’s creation has been established. It is an integral part in God’s redemptive pursuit to wholeness.

We also discovered that the Gospels remind us that healing and restorative justice remain at the center of God’s response. Jesus conveys the message for the faith community 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.


While in Iraq in 2003, Champion Main, the headquarters for the 82nd Airborne Division experienced a vehicle born improvised explosive device (VBIED) on the “secure” forward operating base. After triage of the casualties and the discovery that one US Soldier was killed, 20 volunteers received a very sterile briefing on how to process the scene which included picking up body parts. Important to any warrior is that if killed in action, they would not be left on the battlefield, but honored by being returned to family for burial. In this situation it was not so easy at times to determine whose pieces of human remains we were securing, the two Iraqi insurgents or our brother in arms.

However, there was one incident where it was very evident. A First Sergeant, who was one of the volunteers, approached me to say that he had found the two heads of the insurgents, about 75 meters from the point of the explosion. He said he could not retrieve them and asked me if I could do so. As I walked to where the First Sergeant said they were located, I did not consider what I would do or how it would affect me. As I picked up the heads and placed them in a bag, I said a prayer, “God, may these men rot in Hell!”

It took several days to realize what I experienced on 11 December 2003. Not only was I recovering from my own proximity to the explosion and the anger of losing one of my brothers in arms, I reflected on my prayer. Here I am nearly 13 years removed from that day, I still mourn the loss of my brother in arms. I can recall the horrors of picking up pieces of human remains. But, the part of that experience that I still struggle with was my prayer. How does God’s restorative justice work here? Where can I experience healing?


The faith community has an important role in a healing strategy; to share God’s mercy by being a blessing to others. As we recall Jesus’ message of sharing mercy, the church can walk with veterans and their families on a healing journey as a means of restorative justice. A faith community that lives this role will be a partner with the veteran in a difficult and long journey.

Jesus provides us with three distinct models of justice. Each have a radical approach that at their core exemplifies the role of the community in sharing God’s mercy to the victim and the offender;

  1. In the story of the Good Samaritan, Jesus explored the responsibility the community has for those who have been victimized: “‘Now which of these three would you think was neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?’ The man replied, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Then Jesus said, ‘Yes, now go and do the same.'” (New Living Translation, Luke 10:36-37).
  2. Jesus was concerned about offenders by exhibiting mercy as a model of justice rather than retribution and vengeance. “You have heard that the Law of Moses says, ‘If an eye is injured, injure the eye of the person who did it. If a tooth gets knocked out, knock out the tooth of the person who did it.’ But I say, don’t resist an evil person! If you are slapped on the right cheek, turn the other too…” (New Living Translation, Matthew 5:38-39)
  3. But Jesus’ model of mercy went even further. The community also has a responsibility to directly care for the injured, broken, alienated, and lost. “I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me…and the King will tell them, ‘I assure you, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me.'” (New Living Translation, Matthew 25:36, 40)
In each of these models, the central actor is the community. So, how can the faith community live out the biblical imperative of justice through the initiatives of restoration, mercy, and wholeness with our veterans? The faith community can be a blessing, a blessing to our veterans who are “victims” or who are “offenders.” The faith community can do this by;
  • engaging the veteran through opportunities of worship, prayer, study, fellowship, and counseling in order to restore relationships that have been broken
  • modeling conflict transformation by bearing witness to each other’s stories
  • empowering the veteran to make amends if necessary
  • seeking opportunities for reconciliation through forgiveness and healing, and the service to others
  • sharing the sacred story that includes the role of the Soldier’s faith
  • addressing the larger community and faith community’s role in the harm to the veteran

Possibly you can think of others to share! Through restorative justice, the faith community is uniquely positioned to “be a blessing” to veterans and their families who have experienced a soul wound. Next week we will share how the Sacred Story can prove to be a critical component toward healing. Until then, thank you for the conversation…

Soul Care Conversation (Faith Community Assets For Veteran Care, Ritual)

May 15th, 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!)

Several weeks ago we began a conversation with a new focus, the faith community’s strengths and capacities for veteran care. The first topic we discussed was on hospitality. This week we will review the importance of ritual as a means of support for the veteran to transition from the battlefield to civilian society.


Merriam-Webster defines ritual;

  • a formal ceremony or series of acts that is always performed in the same way
  • an act or series of acts done in a particular situation and in the same way each time

Ritual can involve words, gestures, and objects. Ritual is done in a particular sequence and in a particular place. Ritual usually is prescribed by tradition and characterized by rules. Ritual provides structure and can initiate a rite of passage. Ritual can revolve around a date on the calendar or can be commemorative.

Veterans can easily identify with ritual. In the military, ritual has its origin in customs and tradition. Customs and tradition all contribute to establishing a common identity, standards of conduct, and marking rites of passage, which are a necessary part of establishing and maintaining community and esprit de corps. Military customs and traditions are rooted in the warrior ethos of duty, honor, country, selfless service, and respect. From a recruit graduating basic training to a retirement ceremony where a warrior receives recognition for her or his years of service, ritual has its place in reminding the warrior of his or her role in service to country.

Even as a warrior returns from war, they receive a “welcome home” ceremony. The ceremony has importance for the warrior, unit, and nation. Each ceremony will be slightly different, but has the following in common;

  • official formation
  • recognition speech
  • award ceremony

But, the “liturgy” of the ceremony lacks a critical component, a “cleansing” or purge of the warrior’s experience while at war. The military welcomes the warrior home, but does not embrace the warrior who has experienced the horrors of the battlefield nor assist the veteran back into society. I find this most interesting. As I compare other cultures and societies, I have discovered stories and rituals to assist the warrior to return from combat and then transition back into society.

Why is this important? Often war so deeply effects the soul of the warrior that they return injured, wounded, or broken. This is why many ancient societies included purification rituals for warriors returning from battle;

  • Rome, the Vestal virgins performed purification rituals for those in the Legion returning after battle
  • African tribes, such as the Masia warriors, recognized that the reintegration into society post-battle required ritual expression of the move from one sphere of life to another
  • Biblical instruction of Numbers 31:19-21 to purify soldiers after warfare                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                (above taken from Warrior Transitions: From Combat to Social Contract, Shannon E. French, PhD, US Naval Academy, January 2005, JSCOPE)
  • Native American cultures used the “sweat lodge” as a place of spiritual refuge and mental and physical healing, a place the warrior could receive repair done to the damaged spirit

These are but a few examples of how other cultures and societies put their warriors through rituals of purification prior to the warrior’s returning to their family or community. The widely held thought was that those warriors who were not purified were a danger to themselves and their communities. Possibly there may be a correlation to the destructive behavior within the US veteran community post-deployment, and a high suicide rate among veterans.


The faith community has unique strengths and capabilities to offer the veteran. In this instance, ritual can be a powerful resource toward reintegration into the community and personal healing. Because the veteran has familiarity with ritual within military customs and tradition, the ritual of the faith community may hold importance.

Some similarities in ritual look like;

  • The pastor may say “the Lord be with you” and the congregation responds with “and also with you”. In the military, a lower ranking member salutes a higher ranking individual in greeting and respect and the higher ranking individual returns the salute in greeting and recognition.
  • In the church, we might stand for the reading of the Gospel, where the military member rises and comes to attention for the raising and lowering of the flag.
  • We may have an installation service for a pastor or congregational leader, where the military has a Change of Command ceremony that recognizes an outgoing commander for his or her accomplishments and encourages the incoming commander to care for the unit, mission and personnel.

Congregational spiritual practices, activities, and rituals create a climate of healing and communicate a sense of care to the veteran and his/her family.  Whether a retreat, study of holy writings, special healing service, recognition service, or in the Christian tradition, the use of the church calendar in developing liturgy, such as a Good Friday Service, contain powerful resources for hope and restoration.

Some of the rituals available to the faith community that could provide effective, powerful and transformative resources are;

  • healing
  • repentance and reconciliation
  • cleansing and purification
  • Eucharist

As the faith community attends to their respective liturgies in ritual, we discover a dynamic interplay of the sacred story and God’s response to a broken world. At the very heart of liturgy is a journey toward healing and restoration. Liturgy can be a powerful resource as a place for recovery of the wounded soul.

Next week, we will focus specifically on the Eucharist as a means of caring for the veteran. Until then, thank you for the conversation…


Veterans Day – “Thank you for Your Service”

November 9th, 2015 Posted by Blog No Comment yet

Members of the church can be a great resource. Walking with veterans and their families on healing journeys is means of justice, and what faith communities are about in ministry. As the church lives the liturgy throughout the church year they experience anew the powerful reassurance of God’s grace and presence in the lives of that faith community. As the church lives out these words, they learn to trust others, to bind the wounds of those hurting, and to grow in grace.

Soul Care Conversation (Context of War, Overview)

September 23rd, 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!)

For the last 15 weeks or so, we have reviewed the aspects of military culture and defined some of the dynamics of the military family.  The next step in our conversation is to put into context our combat warriors and the wars they fought, beginning with the Korean War, and updating our discussion to the post 9/11 wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.


All wars can be described in terms of:

  • length
  • costs
  • casualties
  • justification and outcome
  • public understanding and support
  • strategic implications

From the birth of the US, our citizens have debated the size and role of the military, and the political discourse at times has included very intense debates on whether to go to war. So, each war has had its unique aspects that posed challenges to:

  • public’s view and role
  • care system for the warrior in war
  • care system to each veteran following the war

What do we do with a large standing military at the end of war? After most of our conflicts or war, Congress has determined to “right-size” the military, which means that the military goes through a reduction in force. At times this is called a “peace dividend.”

And, what do we do with the veteran after war? In Abraham Lincoln’s second inaugural address, close to the end of the Civil War, he stressed that the nation had an obligation to those “who have borne the battle.” This long standing understanding became crucial following the First World War and World War II. Going to war required a special sacrifice. For this reason, the nation owed the veteran special acknowledgement.


From the American Revolution to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, there have been significant changes in the ways wars have been fought and the ways in which the US has approached war. America’s wars prior to Korea were in direct response to an attack or provocation.  There is a line that follows from Korea to Vietnam to Iraq.  Korea was the first of 4 sustained, multi-year wars that responded to presumed or implicit threat.  Although each began with some clear political objectives, only in the case of the Gulf War of 1991 were the objectives met and only in that case did withdrawal follow the meeting of the objectives. Since World War II, the only sustained war in which the US was directly attacked was Operation Enduring Freedom. However, the attack came not from a country, but by from a group training and working within Afghanistan.

Commonalities of war since Korea are:

  • no formal declaration of war
  • marked with political constraints on the use of military force
  • military objectives were marked by imprecise and changing objectives
  • witnessed a fundamental shift in public enthusiasm and support
  • understanding of the mission and support for the troops depended on some ambiguous premise and soft assumptions


I often see the cost of war only listed in resources and money. The US spends an estimated 4-5% of its GDP each year on the military. The military portion of the budget goes to any military-related expenditure such as pay, training, health care of uniformed and civilian personnel, maintenance of arms, equipment and facilities, construction, and development and purchase of new equipment.

Beyond the cost of the military, there is the added cost for war, and it can be steep. The estimated cost of war to the GDP is:

  • World War 1: 14%
  • World War 2: 36%
  • Korea: 4%
  • Vietnam: 2%
  • Iraq: 1%
  • Afghanistan: no final figure
  • Libya: 0.01%

However, it is in the human cost of life that one begins to recognize the sacrifice made by those who put on the uniform and the families who remain at home. Of course statistics do not tell all, but just a glimpse at the following will suggest the number of families affected by the toll of war. The number of combat dead and wounded US service members from some past wars:

  • American Revolution – 8,000, 25,000 wounded
  • War of 1812 – 2,260, 4,5-5 wounded
  • Civil War – 212,938, 476,000 wounded
  • Mexican War – 1,733, 4,152 wounded
  • World War I – 53,402, 204,000 wounded
  • World War II – 291,557, 671,000 wounded
  • Korean War – 33,746, 103,000 wounded
  • Vietnam – 47,424, 153,000 wounded
  • Post 9/11 (Afghanistan and Iraq) – 5,281, 53,000 wounded

The above list does not even begin to tell the whole story. The US still has warriors missing in action. The number of dead does not include those who died due to accident or “friendly” fire. And, recently the VA recognized that there has been more Vietnam veterans who have committed suicide than were killed in action. The same holds true for Post 9/11 veterans.

As in every war the wounded are far more numerous than those killed. Common combat injuries have included second and third degree burns, broken bones, shrapnel wounds, brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, nerve damage, paralysis, loss of sight and hearing, post traumatic stress disorder, and amputations.  The warriors have suffered grievously as have their families who provide care for them after their return.


In the American political discourse, often the only discussion on the cost of war surrounds the financial costs, strategic costs, and US military casualties. But the human cost affects the fabric of most US communities and families. Our warriors return as veterans to their families and communities with the wounds of war, some are silent wounds. The effects of war linger and can be seen by the employer, college or university faculty and staff, hospital and hospice care providers, and even in the movie theater. Others face a variety of problems reintegrating into their families and communities resulting in joblessness, isolation, divorce, and drug and alcohol addictions among them.

Also, we soon forget the human cost to those whom we fight, to their families and communities. The consequences of war for the people in other countries remain higher than for the US because our wars have largely been fought on foreign soil, except the American Revolution, War of 1812, and the Civil War. Consider the number of civilians killed due to direct violence and fighting, number of war refugees and displaced persons, and violations of human rights.

Lastly, as we look at the places where the US has been involved since the Korean War, it appears the US has been engaged in come conflict or war constantly. The conflicts include:

  • Lebanon Crisis
  • Bay of Pigs Invasion
  • Cuban Missile Crisis
  • Dominican Republic
  • USS Liberty Incident
  • Iran
  • El Salvador Civil War
  • Beirut deployment
  • Persian Gulf escorts
  • Grenada
  • Bombing of Libya
  • Panama, Gulf War
  • Operation Provide Comfort
  • Somalia
  • Haiti
  • Columbia
  • Bosnia-Herzegovina
  • Kosovo
  • Afghanistan
  • Iraq

In all of these operations, the US military experienced loss of life. Also, each operation requires time; time in training, time away from family and community, and time engaged in stressful and dangerous situations. Time spent in stressful situations has a cumulative effect on a warrior, both short term and long term. What may be some mitigating strategies?

Over the course of these next several weeks, we will begin to dig deeper into the specific wars and conflicts since World War II. Next week we will discuss Korea. Please consider joining the conversation…