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Spiritual Care - Healthy Eating

Illness, surgery, traumatic events, and life stresses can affect how you see the world and others in it, including your spiritual life and values. In these situations, you may have concerns about your spiritual beliefs and relationships with others. The VA is concerned about you as a whole person and committed to offering spiritual care as part of your treatment.

For many people, illness extends beyond physical effects. If you are ill, you may fear loss of family or close friendships, loss of respect from others, loss of your ability to participate in activities you find enjoyable, or financial loss. It is common for people who are ill to experience worry, nervousness, or grief about such losses.

For most people, having surgery is stressful. If you are scheduled for surgery, you may experience shock, denial, anger, guilt, sadness, acceptance, and so on. You may be afraid that bad things might happen to you. For example, you may worry about having serious complications or other life changes after surgery.

When traumatic events happen, they may cause you to question your spiritual and/or religious beliefs, to feel anxiety, depression, shame, guilt, or anger at what has happened. You may even experience a loss of trusting relationships or withdrawal from others. While the most familiar traumatic experience for veterans is combat, other traumas may have occurred. These events include but are not limited to serious accidents, natural disasters, child abuse, or rape.

Stress from these events may cause spiritual and/or religious conflicts for you and affect your feelings about your beliefs, your relationships with family, friends, your spiritual faith community, or your understanding of God. For example, you might wonder why God allowed the illness or event to happen to you or someone close to you. This spiritual distress might affect deeply held beliefs about the goodness of the world, the meaning of your life, your sense of self-worth, or your sense of safety. These concerns and questions can have an effect on your overall health. As a result, you may seek spiritual guidance or support. Such reactions are normal and often serve as a spring board to growth and healing. Discussing these spiritual and/or religious issues with a chaplain may help you deal with these situations.

If you decide that you would like to talk with a chaplain, there are chaplains at VA Medical Centers. They are part of the healthcare team that provides care for you. Chaplains can help you address pain that comes from spiritual distress. They provide a safe, non-judgmental presence. You may talk to a chaplain about how your illness or traumatic event affects you and your relationships with God and others. Chaplains will work with you to find out what your needs are based on your personal experience and areas of spiritual conflict. You may also want to discuss with a chaplain your resources for hope and spiritual strength that help you heal and cope with life's circumstances.

Based on this assessment, chaplains create a plan that addresses your spiritual concerns. Spiritual care may be provided through chaplain visits, referral to community clergy, individual spiritual guidance, individual and group prayer, study of scripture, spirituality groups, life review, guided imagery, and meditation. Chaplains provide care that relates to your health as a whole person, your deeply held values and beliefs, and your key relationships that offer meaning and hope in the midst of spiritual suffering.

Chaplains do not take the place of other healthcare professionals. Most chaplains are not trained as therapists who do in-depth psychological counseling, although some chaplains have specialized training as counselors. If you have spiritual issues with which you feel a chaplain can help, please call the Chaplain Service at your closest VA Medical Center.

VA medical centers are listed in the phone book in the blue Government pages. Under "United States Government Offices," look in the section for "Veterans Affairs, Dept of." In that section look for VA Medical Centers and call the one nearest to where you live. Or, you can call:

  • The VA Health Benefits Service Center toll free at 1-877-222-VETS

For online help go to Facilities Locator & Directory and look for the VA Medical Center nearest to where you live.


Reviewed/Updated Date: January 2012
Clinical Advisory Board Sponsor: Dr. Jeni Cook
Clinical Subject Matter Experts: Dr. Michael Carr, Keith Ethridge, Dr. Lowell Kronick, Dr. Hugh Maddry, Dr. Michael Pollitt
Patient Education Subject Matter Expert: Dr. Rose Mary Pries