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Providing Veterans a Space to Heal

by Margaret F.

I am an Episcopal priest and became involved with the Warrior to Citizen Campaign, a grassroots effort to support Minnesota’s returning veterans, in 2007. I was drawn to the organization because it represents the best of civic engagement and living my faith.

At monthly meetings, which always include new faces, I experience a passionate and compassionate commitment by a diverse group of people to find creative ways to assist returning veterans in their reintegration back into their families and communities. This campaign represents ordinary citizens involved in the service of life.

A recurring theme, voiced by both veterans and those who work with them, is the psychological impact of combat and repeated deployment and its effect on a veteran’s ability to reintegrate back into family and community life. Statistics confirm the effects of violence and war on a returning veteran’s mental health, personal relationships, and children.

While the Warrior to Citizen Campaign primarily assists veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, veterans of earlier conflicts, as well as widows of deceased veterans, echo the need for a safe, confidential, forum for veterans to share their stories and begin the process of healing.

A collaborative of citizens has emerged from the Warrior to Citizen Campaign to form a Healing of Memories Working Group. We are a diverse group of men, women, and organizations including– veterans of three wars, the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, the Coming Home Collaborative (affiliated with the Minneapolis Area Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church), the Warrior to Citizen Campaign for Democracy and Citizenship, Augsburg College, the Welcome Home program at Loyola Spirituality Center, and the Episcopal Church of St. James on the Parkway.

This fall, the first Military Memories Workshop will be offered for Minnesota veterans. The workshop will be facilitated by Fr. Michael Lapsley, an Anglican priest and Director of the Institute for the Healing of Memories in Cape Town, South Africa.

Fr. Lapsley lost both hands and an eye as the result of a letter bomb sent to his home during the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. He worked with South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission and now assists governments and organizations around the world in areas of conflict and works with those who have experienced trauma and violence.

The Military Memories Workshop provides a safe place for veterans to explore personal histories and gain insight and empathy for themselves and others. It is based on the belief that each of us has a story to tell and each story must be heard, acknowledged, and reverenced in order to begin the healing process.

The goal of the workshop is to provide a safe experiential and interactive process to overcome feelings of anger, loss, grief, and guilt, which is the first step in a journey to personal healing and wholeness. The workshop will also train Minnesota veterans to serve as facilitators in future workshops.

Part of the transition from warrior to citizen is integrating the experiences of military and civilian life. The Warrior to Citizen Campaign is a grassroots effort to provide enduring support to Minnesota's returning veterans and their families. To get engaged with veterans in your community, search on Serve.gov: "veterans" or "military families" or "service members" or "soldiers". Or contact your local VA to learn about work in the local veterans community.

Click here to read more Veterans and Military Families stories.

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