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About the Blogger

Fr. James E. Burnett is the Chief, Chaplain Service at Hines VA Hospital (708-202-7268) in Chicago, Il. Hines VA is a 475 bed hospital sharing the same campus as Loyola Medical Center in Chicago. His duties include supervising a staff of 9 chaplains who serve the needs of the veterans and their families.

In 2007, Fr. Burnett was elected the President of NCVACC (National Conference of VA Catholic Chaplains), an organization addressing the spiritual needs of the 300 Catholic Priests who serve in The Veterans Administration System.

Monday, November 09, 2009

“The Spiritual Trauma of War: War is Hell”

Last week, a group of over 125 participants representing a wide variety of professional and community based organizations spent one and a half days listening, exploring and reflecting on personal experiences, current data, psychological and spiritual theories and practical advice in treating the moral and spiritual crisis's that affect the returning Iraq/Afghanistan veteran.

The theme of this conference, held on November 3 and 4, was “The Spiritual Trauma of War: War is Hell”.  The initial concept of this conference was to have it be a tool box approach for clinicians and caregivers from within and outside the VA system to empower them to better understand the dynamics involved in delivering care to veterans and their families.  This conference was the follow-up conference held last year entitled “Embracing Spirituality in the Face of Trauma; a Soldiers Journey from Harms Way to Home”; at their core, both conferences emphasized the importance of spirituality in the healing and reintegration process for veterans and their families.  This year's conference galvanized national leaders to present from their vast field of their expertise focusing on bridging the gap between psycho-social-and spiritual services. 

The connecting thread throughout the conference was that veterans experience significant trauma that gives rise to profound moral injury.  These experiences adversely affect the veteran and his/her family.  It was the goal of this conference to help raise awareness and educate the attendees of available resources and ongoing programs designed to address the returning veterans and their families.  The presenters arrived from all points of the nation to share their expertise on identifying and resolving in a clinical or informal setting the sometimes urgent needs that the active duty person and veterans bring to their clergyman or therapists/provider.

One of the major highlights of the conference was the personal story of a returning wounded warrior by the name of Steve.  The story was personal and inspirational.  Steve shared with us about the explosive blast that took the life of his best friend, who was sitting next to him, and caused him to lose his sight.  He stated many times that he had always been an up-beat person, and that he always has had a love for life.  His personal dynamism and his faith gave him the interior resources to grab a hold of life and not let go!  Steve told the audience that; “pain is inevitable, but suffering is a choice”, and each day he chooses to live life to the fullest.  It is hoped for that the participants will be able to take with them the thoughts and ideas presented at this conference back to their facilities and communities and increase their effectiveness in responding to the needs of the veterans and their families.

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Tuesday, November 10, 2009 12:18 PM


We have met before. When the Seabees drilled at Hines I would go with the Catholics from our detachment. BRAC closed Forest Park and now everyone goes to Great Lakes.

I had the blessing of being a Eucharistic Minister while stationed at Al Asad in Iraq. It was spiritually profound to assist with communion. I can still see the hope in the eyes of my fellow Sailors, Soldiers, Marines and Airmen as they received the Body of Christ...perhaps for the last time in their lives. I still carry the card that identifies me as a lay minister.

The transition from warfighter to civilian is a lot longer than the military wants to admit. What makes things worse is the lack of support for the reserves. Active duty personnel can go to the base hospital and seek help for injuries both physical and mental. Reservists are forced to rely on the VA. Those seeking help have serious challenges. The paperwork alone is staggering. Access to a VA clinic is not the easiest thing in the world either. What underscores the problem is the fact that some don't choose to get help, and are disconnected from the military except on drill weekends. There is a chasm between the reservist and the services he or she needs. The sense of isolation can be crushing. Those without a strong spiritual connection can, and do sometimes get lost in the civilian world. One of the members of my battalion fell into that dark chasm and took his own life.

The real needs, and support, of reservists absolutely needs to be dealt with.

Yours in Christ.
Carl M. Ploense III
EO2(SCW) NMCB 25 [2001-2007]

Carl P.

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