Vets Ministry Roundtable addresses domestic violence
The Coming Home Collaborative (CHC) organizes every-other-month roundtables to address veterans’ concerns on behalf of faith communities. The CHC urges congregations to recognize and use their power to help veterans and their families heal from war, especially moral and spiritual wounds. At each Roundtable, a different topic or resource is discussed. This month, the Vet Ministry Roundtable is pleased to offer fresh research in helping veterans change step from committing undesired acts of violence, especially agression against loved ones. Heidi Carlson of the Domestic Abuse Project will present information about the Change Step program for male veterans. Anyone interested in ministry with veterans and their families is invited, from noon to 1:30 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 17, at 2315 Chicago Ave. S. Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church will host the lunch and the presentation. (Preregister at 612-871-2967 or buddy@ListenToVets.org)
The Domestic Abuse Project, located at Franklin and Pillsbury in Minneapolis, helps people unlearn the use of violence in family relationships. Last September they began a program just for veterans, Change Step. The International Institute on Violence, Abuse, and Trauma invited Carlson, who has worked in the prevention of domestic violence field since 1992 and is also the mother of an Iraq vet, to present the Change Step research at their conference in early September. So she will be fresh from that international summit when she presents at the Roundtable in September.
Hector Matacastillo, a therapist and veteran who also works with the program, told KSTP News: “We do believe that the behavior is learned.” He said, “You may have committed an act of abuse, but I don’t believe that you are an abuser. I believe that you want to live a healthy lifestyle with healthy relationships and I want to be able to show you ways that you can get to that goal.”
The work is sadly necessary. One study showed that among current era veterans, 60% of those partnered or recently divorced reported mild to moderate intimate partner violence within the past six months. In a different study of veterans who were seeking veteran health care, 53% self-reported acting aggressively against a loved one in the past four months. Neither study asked, but it is unlikely that veterans want to hurt those they love. The Change Step program for vets and the Domestic Abuse Project in general give people the opportunity to unlearn learned behavior.
By learning about the Change Step program and the concepts that make it successful in promoting healthy relationships, Roundtable participants will be better able to facilitate the well-being of veterans and their families who would otherwise suffer. Of course, not all veterans and their families are suffering, but too many are. Nearly half of those who have returned from military deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan have applied for disability benefits, identifying themselves as permanently disabled in some way. Prior to their deployments, these same people tested as above average in physical and mental condition.
Given the Vet’s Ministry Roundtable format at Our Saviour’s, everyone participates as equals in seeking to better understand how to improve the diminished lives experienced by some veterans and their families. Attendees include veterans and civilians, ministers, caregivers and others concerned.
There is no “us and them”—only “us.” Congregations have a role in sharing the burdens experienced by some veterans and their families as they make meaning of their experiences in the aftermath of war. The basic concept is that finding our way in how to heal involves everyone. This is a ministry of accompaniment, a ministry of “walking with,” not of “fixing or evangelizing.” Many veterans struggle throughout their lifetimes with conflicted feelings about what they have done or not done. They shouldn’t have to struggle alone.
Every encounter with death is a spiritual challenge, and many veterans have experienced soul wounds. Some carry deep grief. Some veterans have had non-ordinary experiences that deserve careful listening. Of course, different things have happened to different veterans. Some will have experienced what Veterans Affairs clinicians now call moral injury. Moral injury is defined as perpetrating, failing to prevent, bearing witness to, or learning about acts that transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. This may entail participating in or witnessing inhumane or cruel actions, failing to prevent the immoral acts of others, as well as engaging in subtle acts or experiencing reactions that, upon reflection, transgress a moral code. The Vets Ministry Roundtables have sought to better understand moral injury and how it can be healed.
Descriptions of previous Roundtables can be found at http://www.mplssynod.org/programs/vets/articles. The Coming Home Collaborative is convened by Amy Blumenshine, Ph.D., a Lutheran diaconal minister called by the Minneapolis Area Synod to address the suffering of veterans.