My assignment to write the Walking Wounded, the Faith Today story about soldiers with post traumatic stress disorder and how churches can help, was one of those journeys into the unknown.
All I knew about the topic was the headlines in the paper telling of what seemed to be a rash of soldier suicides in Canada. It seemed unbearably sad and unfair that those who served our country in awful situations overseas and survived would come home only to take their own life in private agony.
When I start out a story like that, I cast my net as wide and far as possible. I interviewed widely – and deeply – to try to understand:
1. What PTSD actually was
2. If the Canadian Church was actually doing anything
3. What the Canadian Church could actually do.
I leave that story hopeful that some churches somewhere in Canada will take up the challenge and get involved. Whether it’s financially supporting a national organization that helps, or maybe even more importantly, reaching out to the families of veterans in their own communities.
Here are the three most important things I personally learned through this assignment:
1. The events that cause PTSD in a soldier are as real and painful as a leg being blown off. Soldiers with PTSD refer to injuries. Wounds to the spirit require as much care and attention as those to the flesh.
2. The steely strong culture of the armed forces (I was going to say macho but that seems a male term in a mixed gender world), works against soldiers being open to naming their injuries and receiving the help they need.
3. The soldiers and leaders I spoke to say there is not a shortage of help available, but a huge personal ocean to cross before a typical solider will ask for the help they need.
I was deeply touched by how Major Denis Bujold uses Scripture to tend to the hearts of the walking wounded he walks beside. He quotes Psalm 22. Images like being poured out like water, hearts turning to wax. Bones out of joint. Surely, surely, there is a way for the Church to help put what is broken back together again.