‘It’s really up to all of us’ VA offers clergy training to help deal with vets

  • Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided free training for clergy, religious leaders and other community members to assist them with helping veterans and their families, at Athol Congregational Church on Tuesday.

  • Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs provided free training for clergy, religious leaders and other community members to assist them with helping veterans and their families, at Athol Congregational Church on Tuesday.

  • Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli Chaplain Steve Sullivan, of the VA’s Community Clergy Training Program, speaks at a free training at Athol Congregational Church on Tuesday for clergy and religious leaders provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

  • Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli Attendees talk at a free training for clergy, religious leaders and other community members provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, at Athol Congregational Church on Tuesday.

  • Recorder Staff/Domenic Poli Attendees talk at a free training for clergy, religious leaders and other community members provided by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, at Athol Congregational Church on Tuesday.

Recorder Staff
Published: 11/8/2017 7:52:06 PM

ATHOL — Deneric Hansen is proud of his 20 years and 29 days in the United States Army. But as he paced softly around a section of Athol Congregational Church’s Fellowship Hall, he told a collection of veterans and non-veterans something he had never said:

“I killed my company commander.”

Hansen said he was serving as a combat medic in Mosul, Iraq, on Dec. 21, 2004, when a suicide bomber blew himself up in the city at 12:01 p.m., killing 21 people and injuring 130. Two doctors, a platoon leader and most medics at Hansen’s aid station went to the scene while he and another stayed behind. Then, a Humvee pulled up with Capt. William Jacobsen unconscious in the back, with “not a single blister, not a scratch, not a single drop of blood” on his body. Hansen assessed the captain, who had eight children and was married, and sent him to a better-equipped facility one mile away. Jacobsen died in the parking lot awaiting treatment while medical personnel were tending to more than 100 casualties.

Hansen theorizes Jacobsen had an aneurysm ruptured by the bomb’s powerful shock wave.

“Now, that might bring up a question: Did I kill my company commander?” he asked, prompting Navy veteran Preston H. Hood III, who was in attendance, to quickly respond with a “no.”

“Not physically,” Hansen said, “but then, why, for 13 years now, is that what my brain tells me? For the last 13 years, about five times a day, that’s the thought that’s in my head.”

Hansen told this candid story to illustrate the invisible battle scars veterans and service members carry with them and to articulate the importance of emotional support to the military community. The gathering was a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs free training for clergy, religious leaders and other community members to assist them with helping veterans and their families. Developed as a partnership with the VA’s Veterans Health Administration Office of Rural Health, where Hansen works, and the National Chaplain Center, this program assists veterans in rural areas, where access to health care and other resources might be limited. The training lasted 6½1/2 hours and topics included military culture, the potential roles of clergy with assisting veterans and VA suicide prevention training. Hansen said the training is aimed at clergy, though no one is turned away.

The Rev. Beverly Prestwood-Taylor, senior pastor at Athol Congregational Church, said during a break that she offered up her space because every day, 20 veterans commit suicide and 70 percent of those people have, for whatever reason, never visited VA services.

“It’s community members and clergy that really have to be out there identifying who needs help,” she said. “It’s really up to all of us.”

Prestwood-Taylor is also the executive director of The Brookfield Institute, which, according to its website, trains people to “develop and hone the awareness, skills and processes of resilience” and educates them on how to overcome adversity.

Clergy are the first responders to the veteran community, said Chaplain Steve Sullivan of the VA’s Community Clergy Training Program and who led much of the training. It is all right, he said, for people to “own their ignorance” and simply provide comfort and support — instead of false, empty claims to truly understand — to veterans dealing with issues stemming from the service.

Organizers showed the roughly 25 people in attendance a series of recorded clips that explained no one leaves the military the same way they went in, and many veterans experience a brutal culture shock when transitioning from a military life to a civilian one. One video explained the strain multiple deployment cycles can have on military families. Jennifer Baublitz of Thompson, Conn., said her support network has greatly helped her family in trying times.

“It’s been a ride,” she said.

Hood, who served on Navy SEAL Team 2 during the Vietnam War, said it is impossible to not be changed after returning home from deployment.

“Thank you, Preston, for serving and for sharing,” Sullivan said.

Hood also mentioned he appears in “Hunter in the Blackness: Veterans, Hope & Recovery,” a 27-minute documentary film set to premiere at Amherst Cinema at 12:30 p.m. on Saturday. A panel discussion is planned to follow.

One video delved into the unsettling statistics of military sexual trauma, reporting that one out of every four women in the military are sexually assaulted — and that number is likely underreported. Symptoms of military sexual trauma are similar to that of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the video, which also stated women make up 15 percent of active duty members and 18 percent of the National Guard and Reserves. These figures have doubled since 2000.

The hotline 1-855-VA-WOMEN has been set up to help women learn all the VA benefits and resources available to them.

Church member and non-veteran Al Benjamin said during a break that he attended the training because he has known veterans, including family members, who spend their lives grappling with the issues of war.

“It’s long-lasting,” he said. “It’s a tough nut to crack.”

Benjamin, who lives in Athol, said his father’s brother-in-law was killed by mustard gas used in the trench warfare in World War I.

The Veterans Crisis Line, available 24 hours a day, is 800-273-TALK, or text: 838255.

Other western Massachusetts trainings were scheduled for Holy Trinity Roman Catholic Church in Greenfield and at Temple Anshe Amunim in Pittsfield.

Reach Domenic Poli at: dpoli@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 258. On Twitter: @DomenicPoli




Greenfield Recorder

14 Hope Street
Greenfield, MA 01302-1367
Phone: (413) 772-0261
Fax: (413) 772-2906

 

© 2019 Greenfield Recorder
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy