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United States Department  of Veterans Affairs

Searching for Spiritual Healing and Connection

Female counselor speaking to patientArmy Veteran Hattie Cannady is a walking example of how spirituality can help you heal. Once she let a spiritual prescription become part of her drug addiction treatment, her recovery really took off.

"It took me awhile to put my pride aside," said Cannady. At first she was not interested in help from chaplains at the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) in Hampton, Va. But she was glad when she finally did seek their help.

After a couple of meetings, Cannady realized she could trust Chaplain Kim Willis, a retired Air Force Veteran and chaplain at the Hampton VAMC. "I was so hungry for trust that once I got it, it was such an overwhelming experience. I felt a love I hadn't felt before – a sisterly love. She's my mentor."

Cannady followed Hampton's drug treatment program and started attending the VAMC's chapel services. She became a greeter at the chapel and joined the choir and Bible-study group. She got a job and a place to live – and is drug-free.

"We tend to focus only on our mental and physical well-being," Cannady said. "But the spiritual can heal both."

VA includes spirituality as part of the overall health care offered to Veterans, and chaplains are part of a Veteran's health care team. "Health providers should treat people from a ‘whole-person' perspective – mind, body and spirit," said Willis. "Holistic health is a three-legged stool. If one leg is missing, the stool isn't stable."

VA has chaplains integrated into most VAMCs, according to Willis. "VA creates a space for Veterans to explore, own, articulate and understand their spirituality."

But VA chaplains do not impose theology or engage in a theological discussion with Veterans unless they request it.

What is Spirituality Anyway?

Spirituality can be defined as a sense of connection that gives meaning and purpose to a person's life. For some, spirituality might mean having a regular place of worship. For others, it could involve meditating, experiencing nature or having other meaningful pursuits.

"When people are soldiers, their purpose is clearly defined for them, as well as their goals and objectives," said Dr. Mark Shelhorse, a psychiatrist and chief medical officer at the VAMC in Durham, N.C. "There is also an emotional intensity association, a natural reaction to the circumstances of a war environment that reinforces and pervades every day. When soldiers return, they don't have that assigned purpose, meaning or emotional intensity, and no one has ever taught them how to find it on their own. Spirituality offers a path to resolving that search."

When Can Spirituality Help?

Spiritual counseling can help Veterans facing a host of issues. This can include physical or mental illness, death, marital or family problems, job loss, alcohol and substance abuse, homelessness and problems with guilt, according to Chaplain Lowell Kronick, associate director for education at the National VA Chaplain Center. "Chaplains can help Veterans find meaning and purpose in their lives at a time when they are asking difficult questions, such as ‘why is this happening.'"  

According to Kronick, "Veterans who served in the military by definition are used to having chaplains in their lives as part of being in the service. When soldiers transition to VA, our chaplains are an extension of that relationship."

Should You Seek Spiritual Counseling?

You may benefit from spiritual counseling if you are struggling to make sense of what is happening in your life or your relationship with God or a higher power. You also might want to seek spiritual guidance if you:

  • Feel isolated or abandoned
  • Lack family or community support
  • Feel you can't reconnect with your faith tradition, if you had one
  • Question or worry about what is going to happen to you

Connecting with other Veterans, a spiritual community or leader, or family and friends can help you avoid spiritual distress, said Kronick. Prayer and reading scriptures are other ways of finding spiritual support when you need it most.

How Do I Find a Chaplain?

Your VAMC can help you find a chaplain with whom you feel comfortable. VA Chaplains do not promote or advocate a particular faith or theology in VA. If you wish, you may request a chaplain based on your own faith. VA Chaplain services are available to all VA patients, families and staff. Every VAMC has chapel services or a meditation room. You also can search for a chaplain by city and state.

Clicking on the VA Chaplain Services image below will take you to VA is not responsible for external website content.

Screen shot of VA Chaplain Services Video

Learn More

My HealtheVet Spirituality Center
Healthy Living Center with information about Veterans and spirituality

National Chaplain Center
More information about VA chaplains and their services

Make the Connection
Videos of Veterans talking about their experiences and spirituality 

"The Role of Spirituality in Health Care"
Article from the National Center for Biotechnology Information


Updated/Reviewed: July 11, 2013

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