A Faithful Response to Falling Soldiers

Attitudes toward military conflict vary widely within the Christian community, just as they do in culture at large.

Some are strict Pacifists. They take literally the command of Jesus, “Thou shalt not kill,” even in the context of self-defense. I have heard people say, “I will die for my faith, but I won’t kill for it.”

Others are militaristic. They believe it is right, even necessary, to declare and carry out war when there is a just cause, such as fighting “for democracy,” or “against terror.”

Many of us are somewhere in between, searching for divine answers in the midst of an ung0dly world.

Wherever we find ourselves in the spectrum of beliefs about military action, the one faithful response is to honor those who lay down their lives for a cause greater than themselves. This includes those who die in battle, as well as those who come home with broken bodies and minds.

(“Sam Stone,” by John Prine)

Sam Stone came home,

To the wife and family

After serving in the conflict overseas.

And the time that he served,

Had shattered all his nerves,

And left a little shrapnel in his knees.

While some lose their physical lives in battle, many others lose nearly as semblance of the selves they once were due to such mental health crises as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD)

But the morphine eased the pain,

And the grass grew round his brain,

And gave him all the confidence he lacked,

With a purple heart and a monkey on his back.

While PTSD is not exclusively limited to returning veterans, the prevalence is staggering According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, the number of adult Americans with PTSD amounts to 6.8%; while among veterans, those numbers skyrocket to 30.9% for men and 26.9% for women (“Epidemiology of PTSD,”)

There’s a hole in daddy’s arm where all the money goes,

Jesus Christ died for nothin I suppose.

Little pitchers have big ears,

Don’t stop to count the years,

Sweet songs never last too long on broken radios.

According to the Mayo Clinic, symptoms of the disorder include recurring nightmares, flashbacks, depression, feelings of isolation and detachment, irritability and violent outbursts, headache, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance and hypersensitivity, and feelings of guilt. These debilitating symptoms can begin within a few weeks of the initial trauma, but may also manifest themselves years later. Those with PTSD often avoid thinking or talking about the traumatic event; they may become detached from family and friends, the support system they need the most.

Sam Stone’s welcome home

Didn’t last too long.

He went to work when he’d spent his last dime

And soon he took to stealing

When he got that empty feeling

For a hundred dollar habit without overtime.

And the gold roared through his veins

Like a thousand railroad trains,

And eased his mind in the hours that he chose,

While the kids ran around wearin’ other peoples’ clothes…

Treatment for PTSD includes medication, psychotherapy, and support groups. As with other forms of mental illness, medical intervention is not an exact science. One budding hope for treatment lies with Animal-Assisted Therapy (AAT). This is gaining growing support, in various arenas,

AAT could provide dual benefit for the veteran with the therapy pet who may be rescued from a shelter. The total cost of providing a veteran with this care is but a fraction of the cost of other mental health services.

Supporters of increasing the government support for AAT for veterans with PTSD were thrilled with legislation authored by Rep. Ron DeSantis that would allocate nearly $10 million dollars to a five-year pilot program pairing veterans suffering from PTSD with a service dog. The act, officially called H.R. 4764, has been labeled the Puppies Assisting Wounded Servicemember Act. says sponsor DeSantis, “The PAWS Act is a simple bill that could have a dramatic — and potentially life-saving — effect on the lives of many. As we face an epidemic of veteran suicides, we must make sure that all of our returning service members are honored and taken care of, no matter the wounds they bear.”

Sam Stone was alone

When he popped his last balloon,

Climbing walls while sitting in a chair.

Well, he played his last request,

While the room smelled just like death,

With an overdose hovering in the air.

But life had lost it’s fun,

There was nothing to be done,

But trade his house that he bought on the GI bill,

For a flag-draped casket on a local hero’s hill.

On this Memorial Day and throughout the year, consider how you might faithfully honor a fallen soldier as well as a falling one.

If you or someone you know has suicidal thoughts, get help right away through one or more of these resources:

  • Reach out to a close friend or loved one.
  • Contact a minister, a spiritual leader or someone in your faith community.
  • Call a suicide hotline number — in the United States, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1–800–273-TALK (1–800–273–8255) to reach a trained counselor. Use that same number and press 1 to reach the Veterans Crisis Line.
  • Make an appointment with your doctor or a mental health professional.