The Military Connection

by Anthony Stephens
September 2, 2014

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My deployment to Afghanistan with the New York Army National Guard as a chaplain last year was both a peak experience and an unsettling one. After 9/11, LCC counselors gained particular expertise in working with victims of trauma. I continue, like my colleagues, to feel very comfortable helping our clients work through trauma. This does not mean that experiences of trauma are not frequently bad and sad – but we have proficiency at “keeping our heads while all around are losing theirs”, to quote Rudyard Kipling. My service with LCC has thus prepared me well for the mental health work of a chaplain. However, I had experiences that I had not had outside of deployment.

As a chaplain I expected that during my deployment I would see death and horrific injury. I also expected that I would see spectacular and graphic decompensation – what was called in World War I and World War II “shell shock.” When I signed up I expected to be on the beaches administering last rites while taking direct fire, just as members of the Chaplain Corps had done during the D-Day landings. This expectation was heightened when I lent a stole to a fellow National Guard chaplain prior to a ceremony because he had forgotten that his had been covered in blood and was no longer serviceable. As it happened my personal experiences were much tamer than I anticipated. I never took direct fire. I was never anywhere near an IED.

Although my experience of the Veterans Administration (VA) has been wholly positive, many others have not had the same experience. Further, the VA is now deeply mired by accusations of abandonment and neglect. Many vets, I fear, will have nothing to do with the VA, or anything that sounds remotely governmental – even though the price is right. Where can they go? What about non-vet military? There is an epidemic of suicide in the Army. More soldiers are dying to suicide than direct fire. As a new chaplain to a battalion recently returned from Iraq, while the combat veterans might have had issues, the active suicidality was most conspicuous in those who had not deployed. Absent deployment, for many there are no VA benefits.

For non-deployed service members there are numerous stressors, such as tighter budgets, smaller work force assets, more arcane and prolix metrics, plus families who are less ready to move at the whim of the military, and who may see a lot less value in their significant other’s military career. For families who may not want or trust military or governmental assets to deal with the adjustments necessary to being a military family, LCC can provide top flight care, with considerable flexibility and strict confidentiality. It’s worth a call.

Nothing in the foregoing should be deemed to construe anything but respect for the service members of the Armed Forces, and their families, whether combat veterans or otherwise. It is my privilege and honor to serve as a reservist military chaplain. Our remit is to nurture the living, care for the wounded and to honor the dead. In the same way, since 2000, I have been privileged to serve as a staff psychotherapist with the Lutheran Counseling Center. I feel very comfortable that LCC is equally committed to a mission of nurturing the living and caring for the wounded, particularly those who grieve.

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The Rev. Anthony Stevens Ph.D., J.D., LMHC  provides pastoral counseling for adults, couples and teens at LCC’s Paul Qualben site located in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. His comments here are his personally and do not undertake to represent the position of the United States Army or the government of the United States.

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