Parish Mission and Ministry to Veterans and Military Families

Fr. Joe Mulcrone directs Chicago's archdiocesan ministry to deaf and hearing impaired persons. A week after Veterans Day he was stopped near the end of his workout at the gym. It was a familiar voice that called him off the treadmill, that of a Viet Nam veteran.

"Hey, Father. Damndest thing just happened in church on Veterans Day. At the end of Sunday mass, Father stops everything and asks all the veterans to stand and get a blessing. People applauded! I didn't know that some people I already knew were vets too. First time I remember my church ever recognizing us! Damndest thing..."

Fr. Joe had been watching his caseloads trend with a new population, returning combat veterans with hearing loss. That had drawn him in to the situations of men and women returning from service, and their families and their situation during and after deployment. Joe and several others in ministry are now asking parishes to consider doing more than listing active duty service men and women in the bulletin with requests for prayer--a good start, of course.

There have been two well attended programs in Chicago, staffed by archdiocesan personnel and the local VA Hospital (Edward Hines, Jr. Hospital Home), including doctors, social workers, and chaplains. The programs have led pastors and pastoral associates back to a review of their parish mission, and a scan of their assets, parishioner rosters, and unmet needs of service families.

They are becoming knowledgable about such things as post traumatic stress disorder--and learning that in a number of forms it is alive and unwell in their parish.  PTSD is covered up and kept under most roofs. Returning soldiers who have been drilled in self reliance and staying in control find themselves embarrassed by startle reactions, bouts with depression, thoughts about suicide: all too common in a long list of manifestations.

The OPPORTUNITY is: assistance skills are resident in parish communities that can serve the family and personal dynamics that are hidden in plain sight in the homes of deployed and returned veterans. This blog began with a comment from a Viet Nam vet. We've been hearing more about returning veterans and suicide. The VA has been tracking their veterans at risk by age cohorts. Hands down, the largest percentage of veteran suicides comes from men in their 50's thru 70's.  

If your parish has enacted ministries and services for returning vets and their families, could you share a description or a link to your website?  Not just with me. We need to get the word out about this damndest thing.

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Comment by Daniel Gast on February 7, 2013 at 10:25am

The 2012 VA report on veterans and suicide can be found at: 

http://www.va.gov/opa/docs/Suicide-Data-Report-2012-final.pdf

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