People who have served in the military can be invisible in congregations and communities. Unless they wear their USS Enterprise cap or stand when invited to at a worship service near July 4, we may not know about their service. In fact, 10 percent of our neighbors are veterans, and North Carolina has the most veterans or military personnel per capita of any state in the US. Seventy-five percent of current military and veterans belong to the millennial generation, and many millennials do not attend church or speak the language of faith.
Everyone who deploys loses something, whether it is a battle buddy, a marriage, or the ability to feel safe. Vietnam vets, sadly, lost their country on top of all their other losses. Many veterans from that conflict continue to suffer feelings of abandonment and loss because of the way they were treated when they returned home. War steals many things from those who serve in one. War steals joy; war steals hope; war steals peace.
Twenty-two percent of homeless people served in the military. Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day in 42 states. Eight states do not participate in this statistical reporting, so we can assume many more commit suicide every day across the United States.
Where can communities of faith intersect with the military community? There are 1.1 million caregivers of post-9/11 veterans. Persons caring for a person with a brain injury or severe PTSD, probably will not have time to cut their grass and go grocery shopping. As a Church, we know how to care for people. Supporting and loving caregivers would be an amazing way to share God’s love with the military community.
A non-veteran may not understand the deep pain a veteran carries. Whether you are a veteran or not, listen with your heart. Often the mental health community does not incorporate spirituality into mental health care. However, people of faith, have a language to deal with fear, guilt, and why bad things happen.
Listen to veterans without questions and without judgement. Could we provide free babysitting for military families so the spouse who stays home can go to the grocery store without kids or so the military person and spouse could have a date night? Often service members qualify for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program because of their low salaries. Could the church reach out and let them know about food pantries in churches? What military service member or veteran could be empowered to lead a ministry to military folks? Most military service members have had much leadership training and opportunity to lead.
Prayerfully consider how to interact with veterans and military service members in our communities. It takes more than playing the Navy Hymn on Memorial Day or July 4. The church must meet them with open hearts, minds, and doors. Be intentional to reach out to this group of people who may feel abandoned by the Church and by God.
A resource the presenter, Chaplain David Smith, recommended is the book, War and the Soul by Dr. Ed Tick.