About the author: Rev. Dr. Cathi Braasch STS serves as Chaplain to the LMVFM Board of Directors. She is a retired pastor in the NALC and LCMC. She lives in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
“We never close.” These three words demonstrate how Lutheran Military Veterans and Families Ministries (LMVFM) fulfills its mission: In ‘normal’ times and times when pandemic illness, economic downturn, and social unrest increase Post-Traumatic Stress (PTS) reactions in veterans, military contractors, and their families. These reactions range from heightened anxiety and severe depression to uncontrollable anger and even suicide.
“For LMVFM and the military community, the ongoing epidemic is military suicide brought on by untreated moral and spiritual injury, or PTS,” according to the Rev. Leslie Haines, executive director, and lead chaplain. For several years now, more than 20 US veterans have been committing suicide every day. It’s an epidemic in itself.
Founded in 2007, LMVFM works with individuals and congregations from coast to coast, border to border, by:
- Providing free Christ-centred clinical and pastoral counselling for veterans, military contractors, and their families, along with Bible studies and other small-group opportunities.
- Educating frontline providers with best practices for addressing military service-related PTS, through seminars for pastors, health and human services professionals, congregations, and family members.
- Deploying ‘Paws and Effects’ emotional therapy dogs to apply their unique, unconditional care in the counselling sessions as well as educational and outreach settings.
“The current pandemic has only made matters worse,” Haines notes. “Isolation, uncertainty and social upheaval only aggravate the severe depression, heightened anxiety, and uncontrolled anger that are symptoms of PTS. At LMVFM, we’ve seen a steady increase in clients for individual and family counselling since COVID-19 hit our nation.”
A few recent examples from the LMVFM mission files (names changed to protect confidentiality):
- James, a combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, was doing well until a workplace incident nearly led him to suicide. Counselling is helping James recognize what triggers his PTS and control his responses.
- When COVID-19 precautions caused Veterans Administration facilities to lock down, Rob, a 92-year-old Korean veteran, wasn’t allowed to pick up his hearing aids. We reached out to an LMVFM supporter who serves as a nurse at that VA hospital, and much to the relief of the veteran (and his wife) he had his hearing aids two days later!
- Active duty families like Lieutenant Murphy, Celia and their two young sons, who are based away from an active military base, don’t have the supportive community and services that come with living on base. Murphy’s duty location is more than an hour and a half away from his home, and his duties have increased during the pandemic, leaving Celia and the boys to shelter, alone, too often. Couples’ counselling and support for the family has helped ease the strain and isolation.
- When the pandemic hit, Pete, a Viet Nam combat veteran, and his wife suddenly found themselves with 12 persons under their roof: Their adult children and spouses, and grandchildren including three infants under the age of three months, two of them with special needs. The home’s plumbing broke down, and repair bills went well beyond the household’s budget. With LMVFM’s assistance and our connections to other military support services, Pete’s plumbing issue was resolved, and the bill covered.
- “Meanwhile, we’ve had steady traffic of new and returning counselees – including a 20 percent increase in client caseload during April alone,” Haines recalls. “In addition, we did lots of well-being calls with current and prior counselees, offering support before pandemic-induced stress became too much to bear.”
LMVFM office volunteers, themselves vulnerable due to age and medical status, worked from home during the shutdown. Now that social distancing guidelines have eased, they’re happily back in the office every Tuesday.
Chaplain Haines brings first-hand experience to her work with the military community. Haines, a Military Police Officer, retired with the rank of Major after serving 33 years in the US Army. Her deployment to a Guantanamo Bay Detention Facility, followed a month later by a combat tour in Iraq, gave her first-hand experience of the spiritual and moral wounds of war. The physical injuries she sustained in Iraq, which required her to be medically evacuated, paled in comparison to the spiritual wounds she sustained.
“In the military, we leave no buddy behind,” Haines recalls. “I was that soldier, close to spiritual death. Had a Chaplain not been there and recognized my condition and worked with me, I wouldn’t be here today. Recognizing that only Christ could heal those bruises on my soul or my buddies’ souls led to the creation of LMVFM and our approach to treating PTS as a spiritual and moral injury rather than a mental health disorder.”
LMVFM is a 501(c)(3) faith-based not-for-profit organization.
“Christ’s Church has a mission to serve, with His love, those who have served us and are suffering for it,” Haines says. “As a matter of principle, LMVFM neither solicits nor accepts any form of government support,” Haines emphasized. “The Lord has continued to provide for LMVFM through the generosity of individual donors, congregations, and groups that love God, country, and veterans.”
To donate or learn more about how you and your congregation can minister to veterans, military contractors and families, contact Chaplain Haines at 260-755-2239 or e-mail her at email@example.com. LMVFM is headquartered at 3480 Stellhorn Rd., Fort Wayne IN 46815.