Let Prayer Help Vets

January 3, 2019

We are 17 years into the war on terrorism. During that time, hundreds of thousands of our American brothers and sisters have faced the horrors of war. Many are in desperate need of spiritual healing. Their despair is deep. Too often, it is fatal. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that, on average, 20 vets take their own lives each day. Veterans’ advocate Richard Glickstein notes that, over the past 15 years, the federal government has instituted 1,100 suicide-prevention programs for our servicemen and women. Yet the suicide rate has remained unchanged. The recent film “Surrender Only to ONE” frankly portrays the rigors of combat and how they can affect the mind, body and spirit. Only those who have been in combat can truly know the weight a warrior carries on each mission. But all of us can at least imagine the stress of knowing that every single decision you make or don’t make can wind up killing or maiming a comrade. Too often that burden does lasting damage. PTSD can be just as deadly as an IED and more difficult to manage than the chaos of an ambush. It’s something the producer of “Surrender,” Lt. Col. Damon Friedman, knows all too well. In addition to serving as an active duty special operations officer and film producer, Friedman wears a third hat — as president of Shield of Faith Missions. He has one objective: “to provide the hope that our men and women who have gone into combat, who have defended this country, to give them the hope that they need.” Current VA guidelines for treating PTSD include trauma-focused treatment that is personalized to the experience of the individual, and an SSRI anti-depressant. These interventions can work. But actual utilization of VA mental health services can be alarmingly low. In one study, only one-third of veterans with a new diagnosis of PTSD received treatment through the VA, and fewer than 10 percent were properly treated, per VA guidelines. Notably missing from these guidelines is any mention of spirituality. Unless we start considering the spiritual fitness of our servicemen, 15 years from now the suicide rate will still be 20 each day. During a Nov. 29 panel discussion, Friedman spoke of his personal battle against PTSD darkness. Glickstein cited work done by Tyler Vanderweele, Ph.D., and Harold Koenig, M.D., that shows frequent attendance to religious services is associated with significantly decreased suicide rates. Dr. David LeMay of SFO described his work to activate the body’s “rest and repair” system to ratchet down the “fight or flight” response that is overstimulated in PTSD. He has found prayer and spirituality to be an invaluable tool. These men have no wish to force soldiers to attend religious services. But they do want to make the information available to them. Military leaders and the VA should not have to hide the spiritual components of healing or as Friedman puts it, to “find a private corner just to find hope.” Servicemen and women should be informed that there can be redemption through a power greater than ourselves, that can reach down through the deepest brokenness. And God willing, lives will be saved.

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