Online Program

Hidden spiritual suffering of military veterans who are at end of life

Monday, November 4, 2013

Bei-Hung Chang, ScD, VA Boston Healthcare System, Boston, MA
Nathan Stein, PhD, Providence VA Medical Center, Middletown, RI
Lara Skarf, MD, VA Boston Healthcare System
Objectives: Combat experience can impact individuals physically, psychologically, and spiritually. Physical and psychological traumas are well studied, yet spiritual trauma is often overlooked, possibly because it manifests as psychological symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder. Our recent study indicates that veterans who are at end of life have unique spiritual needs to resolve events that occurred during their military life. This study seeks to have an understanding about the experience of chaplains in providing spiritual care to these veterans. Methods: We conducted a qualitative study to individually interview 5 chaplains who provided spiritual care to veterans who are at end of life in a Veterans Administration hospital. The interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed based on the Grounded Theory to identify themes from each interview question. Results: Chaplains reported that they frequently encounter veterans who are still suffering from events that occurred many years ago due to what they did (e.g., killing in war), fail to do, or witness what others have done. Various methods are used by chaplains to help veterans to open up to discuss these hidden spiritual traumas including starting with questions about military experience in general and expressing gratitude to their services. Both religious (e.g., confessing sins) and non-religious (e.g., making meaning of the events) approaches are used to help these veterans. Chaplains reported successfully helped some veterans uncovering suffering that has been buried for many decades. Conclusions: The findings highlight the importance of integrating chaplain service into mental health service to better serve veterans who suffer from psychological symptoms that are rooted in their faiths.

Learning Areas:

Other professions or practice related to public health

Learning Objectives:
Describe the spiritual trauma from military experience among veterans Articulate the methods that can be used to help veterans with spiritual trauma

Keyword(s): End-of-Life Care, Veterans' Health

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I am the principal investigator of the VA funded project that is related to spiritual care of veterans who are at end of life. I have published several papers in areas of health effects of religion/spirituality and spiritual care.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.