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In the Spotlight

Spiritual Injuries and Three Key Spiritual Life Tasks

Contributed by Keith Ethridge, Director, National Chaplain Center

Black man looking down and solemn, thinking seriouslyThere are many different ways of thinking about spirituality and the expression of spirituality in our lives. Spirituality in its broadest terms is that which is "life giving or not" to us. Three very important questions reflect ongoing "Spiritual Life Tasks" that all people deal with daily. These questions are:

  • "Who am I?"

  • "What will I do?"

  • "What does it all mean?"

Self-identity, Purpose and Meaning

We are constantly updating who we are. We change our sense of self in light of our positive or negative daily experiences and activities. We change our sense of self in light of the meaning we give to our living. These are three very important spiritual life functions. Whether we think about it or not, we connect with our sense of self, purpose and meaning every day of our lives.

Hands touchingVeterans have joined the military. They have gone through "boot camp" and have become the Soldier, Sailor, Airman, Marine or Guardsman. Their view of themselves in the world is based on their life in the military. When this experience includes war and combat, the trauma of the events can make it difficult for some Veterans. They may find it hard to find good answers to these three questions.

Spiritual Injuries

Dr. Dewey has worked with Veterans from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam for over twenty years. Dr. Dewey talks about "spiritual injuries." These injuries to the spirit can make it very hard for the combat Veteran to make useful answers to the three spiritual life questions. These Veterans may need special support and assistance. They deal with their memories of combat. They deal with their view of themselves as a result of their military life. Many Veterans are finding meaningful work as they go back to civilian life. They are finding new meaning in their living.

Hope and Help

VA Chaplains are members of your health care team. This team is ready to support our Veterans. Many Veterans struggle with spiritual injuries. Combat Veterans may deal with the visible and invisible wounds of war. There is help and there is hope. Combat Veterans and their family members can find new meaning and purpose in life. They can create a hopeful and positive self-image. They can make a future story for themselves and for their fellow combat Veterans. It begins with acceptance and understanding. They need a listening ear from one who cares! For those who need it, mind, spirit and medical care is readily available. People are ready to help at Veterans Health Administration VET Centers, Outpatient Clinics, and Medical Centers. If you or your loved one needs help, please call your nearest Veterans Health Administration facility today.

"What they (Combat Veterans) are most troubled by is guilt over killing, the traumatic grief they suffer for beloved comrades brutally killed and the fear that they may have let their comrades down (guilt & shame) at some crucial point."

-- War and Redemption by Dr. Larry Dewey, M.D.

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Updated/Reviewed: January 12, 2016