Experts estimate 11 percent to 20 percent of veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan experience post-traumatic stress disorder, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says. Your church can provide hope to them and other veterans by offering a faith-based support group.
Vietnam veteran John Blehm, who says he was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder in 1997, started the support group Bridge to Healing in 2008 at his church, Skyway Church in Goodyear, Ariz.
Located near an Air Force base, the church saw the disorder’s effects and asked Blehm to help reach veterans, providing them prayer and support. Each week for two hours, about 10 men gather on the church’s campus to study the Campus Crusade for Christ Military Ministry’s Combat Trauma Healing Manual, share and seek spiritual guidance. The stories are much the same: nightmares, anger, broken relationships, drinking, felony charges. Attendees never “graduate,” but they learn spiritual and medical techniques to handle symptoms—and hear about the hope Blehm found in Christ.
“They’ll try everything else first,” Blehm says. “Then they’ll say, ‘OK, God.’”
Blehm’s wife, Karen, leads a second support group for military wives devastated by their husbands’ condition. Approximately 100 churches nationwide offer similar men’s and women’s groups, but Blehm says many more are needed, especially as military return from Afghanistan and other posts. The key is finding veterans or their wives to lead. “Veterans speak a different language,” he explains. “We understand what each one is saying and what to say to them.”
That understanding drew Jim, 62, a retired Marine, to Blehm when he started attending Bridge to Healing in 2009. “With John being a combat veteran, I could relate better to him than a psychologist who read it from a book,” Jim says. “I can go to him with anything. He’s my best friend.”
A version of this article originally appeared in the July/August 2011 issue of Outreach magazine.