Faith and Health Partnerships

Special Issue: Caring for our Veterans

June 18, 2021
Advocate Aurora Health Veterans' Committee

Honoring and serving veterans who live in our communities and enter our doors

Advocate Aurora Health has a rich tradition of honoring the men and women who have served our country through the United States Armed Forces. This includes holding special observances on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and acknowledging veterans through a variety of kind gestures, including presenting hand-signed thank-you cards to veteran inpatients and, if they agree, hanging a thank-you message on their door, alerting team members that they are caring for a veteran.

“It’s the little things that let veterans know we are thinking about them and are here to honor their service,” said Jason Jahnke, Regulatory Coordinator with Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital and chairperson of the Advocate Aurora Health Veterans’ Committee.

The systemwide committee began in 2019 and currently has 12 Advocate Aurora team members on board who are “passionate” about making a positive impact on veterans in their community, Jahnke said.

“The system veterans' committee supports each hospital veterans' committee by providing templates and agenda ideas for planning Memorial Day and Veterans’ Day ceremonies,” he said. “We also share ideas among our hospitals on how we can honor the patients we serve who are veterans."

Other functions and duties of the system committee include:

Sharing ideas on how Advocate Aurora Health can attract and retain veterans. “We want to be considered a veteran-friendly organization," Jahnke said. "When veterans apply here, they will know we are a healthcare system that cares about them. Anything we could do within the system to bring in the best talent possible is what we are really hoping for.”

“Veterans bring a lot to the table,” Jahnke added. “These men and women have gone through basic and advanced training in their discipline.  Several veterans have been deployed multiple times and they bring real-world experiences, loyalty, commitment, honor, and duty. It’s the whole package.”

How faith communities can help veterans

Faith communities can play an important role in helping veterans readjust to civilian life. Faith communities not only attend to veterans' spiritual needs, they also can address many other areas of veteran health and wellness.

Faith communities can provide assistance in many ways, including:

Providing veterans with transportation to medical appointments.

Helping recently housed veterans obtain furniture and housing supplies.

Educating congregants, veterans, and others about VA benefits and services and how a veteran can apply for them.

Learning the signs of a veteran or a veteran’s family member in distress.

Encouraging veterans to use the VA services they have earned.

Volunteering with the VA Voluntary Service.

Visiting a hospitalized veteran.

Providing drop-off child care services for a veteran family with young children.

Establishing a Veterans/Military Ministry.

Courtesy: U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs
5 steps to start a veteran ministry or welcome center

Step 1: Identify the number of veterans in your faith community.
  • Set-up recruiting tables before and after service/event
  • Create a tracking system to identify veteran population within the congregation

Step 2: Create a Veteran Ministry or Welcome Center group mission/vision statement

Step 3: Elect Veteran group leadership council officers (President Vice President, Secretary, etc.)

Step 4: Hold monthly meetings with officers and members

Step 5: Develop a strategic plan for the upcoming year
  • Weekly/monthly group, activities, trips, seminars, etc.
  • Connect with local VA Medical Center

Hints to get you started in a conversation with a veteran

The Advocate Aurora Health Veterans' Committee offers the following hints for those who wish to start a conversation with a veteran.

  • What branch/department do you represent?
  • What did you specialize in?
  • Did you go anywhere?

Let the Community Hero lead the conversation. Be aware of body language or other signs that they may not be interested in giving more details.  Please be aware: some individuals may not have had a positive experience and may suffer from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder).

Please refrain from these types of questions:

  • Did you kill anyone?
  • Did you see anyone die?
  • Are you glad you are back?
  • Do you have to go back?
  • Do you think we were winning over there?
  • Was it worth it?

Remember even when approached respectfully, some may not wish to discuss their service. That’s okay, the appreciation is enough. You may find there are other things they would like to chat about.
Multi-faith Veterans Initiative supports veterans transitioning from military service

By Walidah Bennett, Director, Multi-Faith Veterans Initiative, Egan Office for Urban Education and Community Partnerships, DePaul University

The Multi-Faith Veteran Initiative (MVI) works in partnership with Chicago communities to improve the quality of life for veterans and veteran families. More specifically, MVI seeks to strengthen the capacity of faith-based institutions to partner with behavioral health resources, community organizations, and other service providers to engage with and support the Veteran community.

While veterans, on average, successfully transition to civilian life, a significant number face challenges, which result in harm and distress. Since many veterans are reluctant to seek assistance from the Veteran’s Administration (VA), the faith community is poised to serve as a valuable resource in assisting veterans’ efforts to reconnect to their community.

The Initiative takes a broader community approach to addressing veterans who struggle with issues of Moral Injury and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  The development of veteran community spaces within local houses of worship provides a mechanism to strengthen community coordination around veteran and veteran family issues. This effort facilitates an organic collaboration with not only faith stakeholders but also among behavioral health and social service providers within the community including the local Veteran’s Administration.

An Asset-Based, Community-Engagement Approach

MVI provides faith leaders with information that assists them in understanding the broader transition issues of veterans. This training focuses on: Military Culture, PTSD, Traumatic Brain Injury, Suicide, Military Sexual Trauma and Moral Injury.

National Women Veterans United

National Women Veterans United (NWVU) advocates, educates and bonds with military women veterans to ensure they are connected to appropriate direct services and resources as they return to employment, school and family. NWVU has a special emphasis on women who are disabled, homeless, and at risk in other ways, or returning from deployment.

NWVU's mission includes:

  • Ensuring women veterans have access to equivalent well-being services and programs as male veteran counterparts.
  • Educating women veterans on their VA benefits and entitlements, such as healthcare, education, employment and training, vocational assistance, and other VA resources.
  • Mentoring and lending leadership skills to youth programs, such as Girl Scouts, JROTC , Military Family Readiness Groups or Gold Star family children.

NWVU attempts to inform governmental entities of the issues and needs of women veterans and women currently serving in the Armed Forces by hosting community panel discussions and forums to generate diverse responses to issues that impact women veterans nationwide.

What is moral injury?
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and moral injury share similar symptoms, like anger, addiction or depression. PTSD is fear-based, whereas moral injury is based on moral judgment, and having it requires a working conscience, according to The Shay Moral Injury Center.

According to the Moral Injury Project: “Moral injury is the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress one’s own moral beliefs, values, or ethical codes of conduct.”

In the context of military service, moral injury can stem from using deadly force in combat and causing the harm or death of civilians, giving orders in combat that result in the injury or death of a fellow service member, failing to provide medical aid to an injured civilian or service member, or following orders that go against one’s moral values.

For military veterans struggling with moral injury, self-forgiveness can be a potential path to healing, according to the study, "Opening a Door to New Life": The Role of Forgiveness in Healing from Moral Injury."

"Clinicians, if they are willing and humble, can play a crucial role in facilitating the process of self-forgiveness," the study says. "They can create a space for open and compassionate exploration of painful moral traumas, and help veterans chart a course toward the renewal of their moral self. Many veterans, we have found, can and do achieve that renewal—honoring their values, making amends to those they harmed, and finding ways to respect the self they have become."
How to approach someone impacted by moral injury:

  • Create a safe place for the person to talk
  • Listen with love and compassion
  • Learn how the experiences has affected their spiritual beliefs
  • Ask how they would like to receive help
  • Resist rushing into interventions
  • Watch for depression/suicidal ideation
  • Make referrals to professional help if needed

June is PTSD Awareness Month

June 19, 10:00 a.m. - 2:00 p.m.
Cantigny Park, 1 S 151 Winfield Road, Wheaton

The program will talk about the almost two dozen veterans a day who take their life due to PTSD, moral injury and critical incident stress. The keynote speakers will include James H. Mukoyama Jr. of Glenview, a retired U.S. Army major general; Chappy Ferrer, 82nd Airborne, U.S. Army; and Zoeie Kriener, founder and CEO of Support Over Stigma.
How to help someone having a flashback or panic attack

Courtesy: HelpGuide

During a flashback, people often feel a sense of disassociation, as if they’re detached from their own body. Anything you can do to “ground” them will help.

  • Tell your loved one they’re having a flashback and that even though it feels real, the event is not actually happening again.
  • Help remind them of their surroundings (for example, ask them to look around the room and describe out loud what they see).
  • Encourage them to take deep, slow breaths (hyperventilating will increase feelings of panic).
  • Avoid sudden movements or anything that might startle them.
  • Ask before you touch them. Touching or putting your arms around the person might make them feel trapped, which can lead to greater agitation and even violence.
10 things not to say to someone with PTSD

Courtesy The Mighty

What not to say: “It wasn’t even life-threatening.”
Alternative: “I know you’re scared because of it, but you’re safe now.”

What not to say: “People have been through worse.”
Alternative: “You can get through this hardship.”

What not to say: “Stop over-reacting.”
Alternative: “I understand you’re scared, but I’m going to be right here next to you the whole time so that nothing happens. Let’s do this.”

What not to say: “Stop being so dramatic.”
Alternative: “Deep breath. Let’s talk through this. Why do you feel this way?”

Suicide prevention resources

It’s common for veterans with PTSD to experience suicidal thoughts. Feeling suicidal is not a character defect, and it doesn’t mean that you are crazy, weak, or flawed.

If you are thinking about taking your own life, seek help immediately. Please read Suicide Help, talk to someone you trust, or call a suicide helpline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Looking for veterans' resources? 

The National Resource Directory is a searchable database of resources vetted for service members, veterans, family members and caregivers.
Children's Resources

Advocate Children’s Health Resource Center offers easy access to trusted health information – perfect for parents, teenagers, and children. Explore our online resources on a wide variety of children’s health topics.

Suggested eBooks from eBook Library:

Children’s Health Resource Center online articles:

PTSD resources

U.S. Dept. of Veterans Affairs

  • Training videos to help faith communities and clergy care for and support Veterans and persons with emotional and mental health struggles.

Mental Health First Aid for Military Members, Veterans and their Families, National Council for Mental Wellbeing. The course teaches people how to notice and respond to signs of mental health and addiction challenges with a specific focus on the cultural factors related to military life.
Want to Hear From You!

We hope you find this update helpful as you promote the health of your members and community. Please contact Cindy Novak if you have questions or topics you'd like us to address. Thank you!
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