Lutherans in the Twin Cities

Twin Cities Lutherans gearing up to help returning war veterans

Nothing less than a “catastrophic war trauma recovery net” is what is now needed: Amy Blumenshine

Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in south Minneapolis and its parent, Minneapolis Area Synod of the ELCA, were among organizations in the spotlight at the day-long Governor’s Minnesota Veterans Summit September 21 at the Minneapolis Convention Center.

The gathering was designed to address the needs of returning combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan and their families. Amy Blumenshine, an Our Saviour’s member who sparked interest in that area in her congregation and the synod, was the principal speaker during a workshop titled “Faith-Based Ministry to Combat Veterans and Their Families.”

It was an adult forum at Our Saviour’s early this year that led to drawing up a resolution which was adopted at the synod’s annual assembly in April.

That resolution stated that because of their exposure to trauma, many military personnel will be returning home with wounds of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury.

It called on the bishop’s office and the Joint Peace with Justice Committee to take actions toward helping military personnel and their families make a healthy and successful reintegration into the civilian community.

Psychologists believe that any soldier who has been exposed to the stress of a combat zone is a candidate for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) when he or she returns home. Among the many symptoms of PTSD are explosive outbursts of anger, substance abuse, inability to establish intimate relationships and domestic violence. All these have harmful consequences for the veteran and those closest to him or her.

A study of 223,000 soldiers by the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in March. It showed that over a third of soldiers coming home from Iraq had sought menta health services within a year of return

Blumenshine, a trained social worker, was well aware of this study and other research done on PTSD since the Vietnam War — data which she describes as “very alarming.” So were the mental-health professionals she knew at the Walk-In Counseling Center, located a few doors south of Our Saviour’s on Chicago Avenue.

The collaboration be-tween Blumenshine and the counseling center set the stage for the adult forum at the church and the ensuing synod resolution.

Since the synod action, efforts have focused on acquainting congregations with the nature of the PTSD problem and the resources available locally to intervene early and deal with it. This has been done mainly by using congregation and synod publications.

Because the Minneapolis Area Synod’s Peace with Justice Committee is a joint unit with the St. Paul Area Synod, efforts to deal with the problems of returning veterans are moving forward in both jurisdictions, Blumenshine said. One major result is that the annual ministerial training session of the two synods January 18, 2007, at Calvary Lutheran in Golden Valley will focus on this topic.

In her remarks at the Veterans Summit, Blumen-shine said Lutherans do not see the war in Iraq and Afghanistan as “a war for Christianity.”

However, she added, “We do recognize the incredible significance of the courage, commitment, teamwork and sacrifice that soldiers and their families demonstrate. We recognize and salute the heroic journeys in process for soldiers and their families.”

Blumenshine said Lu-therans want to be part of a “catastrophic war trauma recovery net that sees the symptoms of combat stress as one of the challenges for the hero on her or his journey.”

That community-wide net would include, besides churches, such groups as health-care providers, first responders to emergencies, and schools, she said later.

As part of the net, Blumenshine said, “We believe that the church has a special role to play to help veterans document their ‘invisible wounds’ and get help before suffering additional losses based on their wounding … before the consequences of their wounds destroy their relationships and future possibilities.”

In addition, Lutherans intend to offer “spiritual accompaniment along the hero’s journey for those courageous enough to undertake it,” Blumenshine said. “We want to be part of rebuilding the capacity for compassion, sensitivity and intimacy.”

After listing the large number of life-transforming experiences veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars have been through, Blumen-shine asserted that “in the aftermath of war, we believe that people can grow beyond being wounded and diminished by their experience.

“I want to be clear that one can never be ‘un-wounded’ or ‘undiminished’ by some experiences, yet we believe that even so God grants us the grace to be able to continue to grow, to gain wisdom, and to [grow] more toward that image of God for which we were created.”

Blumenshine said some people will feel alienated from God as a result of their experiences in the war.

“Whatever those experiences, we in the Lutheran church want to be able to offer accompaniment as the veterans and their families come home together, re-forming in what we call theologically a ‘right relationship’ with each other and God,” she said.

“We Lutherans are not afraid to talk about evil, and we believe that many of our soldiers have confronted horrendous human evil,” Blumenshine said. “We want to be able to provide a framework in which soldiers can safely deal with their experiences.”