How your church can help

Vozenilek says churches are not responsible to aggressively seek out those who might have the disorder. "However, church laypeople can be trained to identify the outward displays and the internal feelings of a combat veteran," he says. "This basic training can be enough to help recognize the problems and get prayer support, make referrals to support systems, and be able to offer support as a concerned layperson within the community."

Captain Jeffrey Farr, an Iowa National Guard chaplain, points out that while it's crucial to know when to refer vets to outside resources, churches are also mission-critical to recovery. "Help veterans address not just 'why' their experiences happened, but to what extent can this be used," he says. "Do not turn them away because you feel like you have nothing to offer. They need you, and they need the God that you represent."

Al Guerra, pastor of the 400-member Hispanic congregation at Wheaton (Ill.) Bible Church, says that when veterans come home from a war, "They often just need basic assistance—rides, food, help in getting out of debt, upkeep in the home. But churches should form a network to find the families of soldiers and show up at their front doors asking, 'Is there anything we can do for you?'"

Lisa Jaycox, senior behavioral scientist at the RAND Corporation, says that the more stress a family is under, the harder it is to recover from PTSD. Like Guerra, she notes that any support that churches can offer the family is helpful, from mowing the lawn and offering meals to providing financial guidance.

Vozenilek feels that churches basically turned their backs on the Viet Nam veterans. "My greatest fear today is not that the churches are turning their backs, but that they won't care for veterans because they simply don't know what to do," he says. "There are certainly churches out there doing it right. But they're few and far between."

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