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Clergy to learn to help war veterans

Seminar geared to help deal with PTS

Considering spirituality and community support key to healing, a Spokane veterans outreach counselor has arranged for a workshop to help clergy members assist servicepeople returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.

The four-hour workshop, Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. at St. Anne’s Children and Family Center, 25 W. Fifth Ave., will train clergy and pastoral staff to offer understanding to veterans and their families as they deal with post traumatic stress.

“Clergy and pastoral staff are in unique positions to assist returning servicemen and women and their families as they struggle to readjust to life at home. Churches can help people deal with internal wounds,” said Mike Ogle of the Spokane Vet Center, who networked with Catholic Charities of Spokane and Lutheran Community Services Northwest to offer the workshop.

Often, Ogle said, clergy are the only people veterans may trust to listen to their problems in confidentiality, because military chaplains are the only ones in the military who keep confidentiality.

The workshop will inform clergy and pastoral caregivers about the Vet Center, and help them recognize symptoms and know when it’s appropriate for them to counsel and when it’s appropriate to refer.

By educating pastors on post-war trauma and stress, Ogle hopes to help vets and their families with the readjustment to civilian life.

At home, some experience nightmares and withdraw, which he said is a normal result of combat exposure. They also have to change driving habits from how they learned to drive in combat zones.

“After going through the trauma of combat, people need support from their families and communities,” Ogle said. “They need to know people understand what they have gone through. They need relationships with people who will encourage them to seek help when they cannot sleep at night, lose interest in hobbies or become irritable.

“Those suffering from post-traumatic stress often isolate themselves, as many Vietnam vets did when they settled in the hills of northeast Washington.”

Ogle said friends, family and people in the faith community need to be aware so they don’t say things that further isolate people.

“You don’t ask vets, ‘Did you kill anyone?’ because that may make them feel judged and put them back in their trauma,” he said.

“Many suffer survival guilt, because they lived and friends died. That guilt makes them think they can’t go back to church. Their emotions can be debilitating, interfering with their ability to keep jobs and building irritability that breaks down marital and family relationships.”

If veterans are irritable, Ogle said, their spouses feel uncomfortable inviting friends to visit, so they, too, become isolated. And sometimes the irritability leads to verbal abuse.

“PTS does not go away,” he said. “A vet is often in survival mode the rest of his or her life. We offer skills to help them cope.

“They are normal people, put in abnormal situations, suffering and coming back changed. They react to normal circumstances in different ways – fearing death is imminent, fearing being in crowds, or drinking energy drinks that put them into hyper-vigilence.

“They have difficulty sleeping, but 70 percent of their problems go away if they have help going to sleep.”

Social workers at the Vet Center use therapy tailored to the individual, because each reacts differently. Some – men as well as women – were raped or harassed and return with PTS from the sexual trauma, Ogle said.

For families, the center offers three-day classes to help people process their grief. It also offers family therapy to improve marital relations and help spouses and children understand.

Ogle, who grew up in Colville and Spokane, served in the Air Force for 25 years, retiring four years ago. He served eight years in war areas, ranging from Grenada to Iraq.

Disabled from injuries to his back from years of hard landings in aircraft, Ogle does not have to work, but he has a passion to help other vets.

He has worked at the Spokane Vet Center, 100 N. Mullan Road, for three years. As a benefit expert and educator, in addition to educating vets and their families, he seeks to educate the community through organizing events.

Now attending St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, Ogle knows how faith has made a difference for him as he has readjusted. The church provides a support network. He has found faith to enhance his healing, especially through understanding forgiveness.

Vets need to know that even though they may have killed, they are forgiven, Ogle said. Guilt can keep them away from churches, which can be resources for them.

The Spokane Vet Center, formerly the Vietnam Veterans Center, began in 1979 for peer mentors to work with Vietnam vets not helped by the Veterans Administration.

For information, call (509) 444-8387 or e-mail michael.ogle@va.gov.

This story first appeared in the May issue of The Fig Tree, a monthly newspaper that covers faith in action in the Inland Northwest. For more information, call (509) 535-1813 or visit www.thefigtree.org.


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