The San Diego area has one of highest densities of military personnel, veterans and their families in our nation. As we approach Veteran’s Day on Monday, November 11, we should direct attention and commitment to the issues of our veterans. Military members, and especially combat veterans, along with their families, face daunting challenges as they transition to civilian life. Most veterans transition successfully, and apply their experiences making important contributions to our nation, our community, and our churches.
However, for some veterans the transition is hampered by wounds, physical, mental, and spiritual. These injuries impair their ability to adjust to healthy living. Homeless veterans are increasing in number. Last year there were an estimated 18,633 homeless veterans in California with between 3,000 and 4,000 homeless veterans in San Diego. In our county 45 percent have mental illness and 70 percent suffer alcohol or drug addiction. Stand Down, a program that started in San Diego in 1981 and is active now across the nation, consists of a weekend devoted to providing medical, legal, and emotional/spiritual support to homeless veterans. Through efforts like Stand Down, and its major sponsor, Veteran’s Village of San Diego, three groups of homeless veterans are noted to be growing at an alarming rate: 1) single male parents with children, 2) women veterans, with or without children, and 3) post 9-11 combat veterans, both men and women.
The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) is aware of these issues. The VA has been working with community leaders, especially churches, to support our veterans and their families. Some ways faith communities can aid this stressed segment of our population are: being military friendly, acknowledging members who serve or have served in the military, praying for them and supporting events that honor them; reaching out to their families and being aware of the stresses of military expectations; making informed referrals when appropriate; and listening without condemning. One of the tragic legacies of Viet Nam is the blame of individuals. Faith communities can, without compromising their moral standards, provide a safe place for expression of the troubling and traumatic experiences crippling some of our veterans.
The Episcopal Bishop Suffragan for Federal Ministries, the Rt. Rev. James B. Magness, notes that, “This year Veteran’s Day takes on a special meaning for many of us. Fifty years ago the Viet Nam War began and forty years ago it ended. The vast majority of the veterans of that period never received positive recognition . . . We have a good opportunity to change our attitude toward these veterans.”
Many veterans, whenever they served, have not shared their experiences with anyone. For some this has made normal living impossible. Our most recent combat veterans often have multiple diagnoses including traumatic brain injury. As a local VA chaplain has suggested, “The true incarnational gift most appreciated by the combat veteran and his/her family is applied love (respect and care) and the growth of their own faith.”
As your bishop I invite you to do something this month to recognize the veterans among you, to show your support of them and their families, and to be a witness in our communities of the fearless love that embraces all the children of our God. If possible, attend the Veteran’s Evensong at St. Paul’s Cathedral on Sunday, November 10 at 5 p.m. Learn about diocesan and local resources and programs so that you can share this information and use it. In this way we seek and serve the peace that passes all understanding.
The Rt. Rev. James R. Mathes
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