A Strong America

Helping America’s Battlefield Warriors Recover, Inside and Out

Op-ed explains exactly how we can assist our bravest who do so much to keep our country safe and free

After nearly two decades on the battlefield, I personally know the struggles that our soldiers encounter after the traumatic and unyielding effects of war.

The impact produces not only the visible wounds that we see on the surface — but also scars that affect someone deeply, into their core psychological and spiritual well-being.

The Department of Veterans Affairs recently reported that more than 20 veterans and active duty service members, guardsmen and reservists commit suicide every day in the U.S.

Of those, approximately 16 are veterans.

Research suggests there is a strong link between guilt related to combat and suicide for veterans with PTSD.

While the military takes precautions to protect our soldiers physically through upgrades that allow them to often withstand direct attacks from enemy fire in a combat situation, our soldiers are often ill-prepared for the internal battle that takes place after they return home.

Related: Veterans Deserve Our Sincere Thanks for All They’ve Done

While everyone handles the scars of war differently, I believe there are tools we can offer our warriors to help them overcome the war on their internal battlefields.

1.) Provide education. We can improve education and training to help military personnel better anticipate, recognize and respond to invisible wounds. An example is training warriors to conduct a basic self-assessment following a combat engagement as well as equipping and encouraging team leaders to assess teammates.

Making self-assessments a routine occurrence will help reduce the stigma of discussing — and doing something about — invisible wounds.

2.) Connect warriors with programs. When a soldier is injured, we, as a nation, need to make sure that he or she seeks out programs and groups that can help navigate the inner wounds that can accompany a physical injury and find a path to healing.

3.) Treat the warrior as a whole person. Overall psychological, physical, and spiritual fitness is key to healing. One without the other lessens the effectiveness.

In order to make advancements, a systematic and holistic approach is needed.

Typical interventions such as clinical treatments and group therapies that ignore the spiritual dimension are inadequate. This spiritual dimension of trauma includes grief, guilt, and shame.

It can manifest itself through traumatic events the warrior has encountered or experienced while on the battlefield.

Spiritual fitness is key to addressing moral injury, re-establishing identity, and helping the warrior along his or her path to wellness. The fact is, when it comes to spiritual fitness, only God can heal certain wounds.

4.) Let warriors know they are not alone. Thousands of people in the veteran community suffer from the effects of combat. Collectively, more have served now in Iraq or Afghanistan than those who served in Vietnam.

According to statistics kept by the Veterans Administration, more than 1,000 vets attempt to take their lives every month and as stated in the statistics above, more than 16 a day take their lives. These numbers are staggering and the feelings of helplessness and hopelessness CAN be overcome.

5.) Teach warriors to “surrender.” This is last and most important step.

I’m not talking about surrendering to the enemy or surrendering the guilt and shame of what has taken place in the soldier’s life. What I’m talking about is surrendering ultimately to the only one who can heal the wounds, bind broken hearts and set the captive free. I’m talking about Jesus.

There is hope found in Jesus, who guarantees He will raise the most desperate and exchange the ashes of war for the beauty of grace, peace and forgiveness.

By taking the appropriate measures and providing all viable options toward a path to wellness, it is possible for military personnel engaged in the battle of body, heart and soul to recover their identity — by embracing hope and a renewed sense of purpose.

Air Force Special Operations Lt. Col. Damon Friedman is the founder of SOF Missions, a nonprofit organization based in Tampa, Florida, that is aimed at helping veterans. Any church that wants help establishing a support group for veterans should contact SOF Missions at [email protected] for materials.