When the War Never Ends
"Mark went through the memories and the triggers with us by his side, with people who love him and want him to heal, who didn't allow him to stop and walk away. It was very difficult for all of us, but at the end of the day, Mark's load was lightened dramatically."
The Waddells now share their story through Bridges to Healing, and last fall Marshelé co-authored When War Comes Home: Christ-centered Healing for Wives of Combat Veterans (Military Ministry Press).
Westfall—the Oregon National Guard vet who drank herself to sleep each night—is also involved with Bridges to Healing. After some loving pastors cared for her, "the armor I had built around myself began to fall apart," she writes in a testimony on Campus Crusade's website. Westfall gave her life to Christ, and now works part-time with the PTSD task force of Crusade's Military Ministry.
To supplement the efforts of local churches, Jon Norsworthy, director of the faith-based nonprofit Agapao Center, founded the Sanctuary, based outside Washington, D.C., as a refuge for those suffering from combat trauma. Visitors come to retreat facilities to find time for reflection, a safe place to talk about their trauma, and spiritual guidance. "There are a lot of unanswered questions about how to justify what they've seen with the God we worship," says Norsworthy. "It's not a time for pat answers and clichés."
The church's role
"People with PTSD have other problems such as joblessness, homelessness, substance abuse, marital problems," Blehm says. "When church staff know the cause, symptoms, and behaviors related to PTSD, they will recognize the root cause of these problems and will be able to refer them to those who can help them."
The easiest way to serve veterans with PTSD, says Nate Self, author of Two Wars: One Hero's Fight on Two Fronts—Abroad and Within (Tyndale House), is first to have a military ministry in a church, which may have someone with PTSD in its midst. Practical ways a congregation can help military families include mowing yards, watching kids, doing housework, sharing a meal, and listening.
Lisa Jaycox, senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation, says that the more stress a family is under, the harder it will be for a family member to recover from PTSD. First Baptist Church in Belton, Texas, conducts an annual survey of its military families to make sure they know about specific needs. The church also designates go-to people for each military family, and provides childcare so military couples can go out on dates. The church puts together care packages for deployed soldiers and "reverse" care packages for their families, which include items the deployed soldier wants the family to have. A network of men also volunteers to take kids fishing and do other activities while dads are deployed.
Though Self was involved in a PTSD small group at Veterans Affairs, it was his church's own small group that proved most beneficial. Though some of his PTSD symptoms remain, they are much less severe. He now works as a consultant on officer-training materials for the Army, and is active in First Baptist Church's military ministry, which serves more than 100 military families in its 3,500-member congregation.