A Healing Welcome

Story by Johnna Walker

Not all war wounds can be seen. Many military men and women return from tours of duty with injuries that are difficult to diagnose and easily overlooked. Two of the most common are Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI). An effort is being made in Arkansas, as well as in other states, to treat all aspects of soldiers’ well being as they return from defending our country. 

On Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010, the V.A.-Clergy Partnership for Returning Veterans in Rural Areas will present “Russellville Area – Mental Health Partnership Training for Clergy”. The event will be held at Arkansas Tech University in the Chambers Cafeteria East Dining Room. The evening will begin with a light meal at 5 p.m. and sessions will be held from 5:45 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. The event is sponsored by Arkansas Tech University and South Central V.A. Mental Illness Research Education and Clinical Care (MIRECC). CEU credits are available for health care professionals. The event is being held in cooperation with Counseling Associates, Inc. in Russellville.

Chaplain Steve Sullivan is the Clergy Coordinator for the Central Arkansas Veterans Healthcare System. Sullivan holds a bachelor of arts degree from Baylor University, a M. Div. degree from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and a Th. M. from Princeton Theological Seminary.

During a recent visit to Russellville, Chaplain Sullivan stated, “The purpose of this event is to reach members of the clergy as well as mental health professionals. The goal is for these groups to be able to cross-network. Research shows that approximately one fifth of the veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan suffer from severe mental health problems and when facing difficulties, they are more likely to seek help from their pastor instead of a mental health professional.”

“Approximately 1.3 million soldiers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The estimated one fifth of that number needing help for serious mental health issues equals 250,000.”

Sullivan said that the irony is the more mental health professionals are learning about the unseen mental health problems of returning vets, the less resources there are. Sullivan stated, “The economy has been diving while the need has been rising.”

The V.A.-Clergy Partnership for Returning Veterans in Rural Area also presented training in Russellville in March at the First United Methodist Church that focused on Combat Stress and Suicide Prevention.

Chaplain Sullivan said, “In a crisis, the clergy and faith community are the first responders. When a need surfaces in that context, they need to be informed on how to serve these people or how and when to refer them to a specialist that might be needed.”

“There is a stigma about mental illness in some rural areas and in some churches. Someone who needs help is more likely to seek it from a minister instead of a mental health professional.”

Sullivan has been working locally with the Russellville Ministerial Alliance. He said, “I am very impressed with the Ministerial Alliance here in Russellville. They are very organized and have a strong sense of community involvement.”

Chaplain Sullivan extended a personal invitation to the upcoming event to all mental health professionals, members of the clergy, veterans’ service groups and community service groups.

“Our goal is to provide a community-wide network of faces as a resource for veterans.” Sullivan also said, “We are learning to be pro-active and now provide some programs for pre-deployment.”

“We send these people to war, we are responsible for them when they return.”

Sullivan said a book entitled Welcome Them Home, Help Them Heal (Pastoral Care and Ministry with Service Members Returning from War) is often used in training the clergy and interested individuals in the faith community. Information on how to obtain copies of the book can be found at www.welcomethemhomebook.com.

Russellville native Major General William Wofford, Adjutant General of the Arkansas National Guard, supports the upcoming event and plans to be in attendance.

General Wofford said, “After months of significant stress, in extreme weather conditions, and living with the constant fear of the unknown of possibly facing death or injury, it takes time to decompress and revert back to a peacetime environment.”

“What we have been trying to convey to our soldiers and airmen, their families, employers, co-workers, and clergy is that it takes strength and courage to step forward and admit that you have a problem that you can’t resolve yourself…..to admit that you need help. That is the first step, but it is the hardest.”

Chaplain Sullivan also discussed the soon to be opened V.A. Community-Based Out-Patient Clinic in Russellville. Veterans will be able to be seen for medical needs without traveling to other parts of the state. A mental health social worker will also be on staff at the clinic.

To RSVP to the November 9th event, or for more information, contact clergypartnership@yahoo.com, or contact Chaplain Sullivan at steve.sullivan@va.gov or at (501) 944-9297.  

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