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The second battle

"The second battle" Continued...

Issue: "Soldiering on," May 27, 2006

Vietnam veteran Phil Kinsey told WORLD, "We're trying to prevent that from happening with those soldiers returning from Iraq." Mr. Kinsey volunteers as the Ohio state coordinator for Pointman International Ministries (PMIM), a nonprofit, nondenominational Christian organization that helps returning soldiers. Mr. Kinsey also oversees one of PMIM's 239 U.S. "Outposts"-places where veterans can communicate with other soldiers who have had similar experiences.

While working at a Landing Zone Refuge (which offers food, clothing, and fellowship for veterans), Mr. Kinsey explained that Outpost volunteers attend military homecoming ceremonies where they pass out business cards and talk with soldiers and their family members. When soldiers call the Outpost, Mr. Kinsey lets them know that he's always willing to talk-even in the middle of the night: "If they can't sleep, they can call me. I've talked a lot of guys out of suicide."

He said the most commonly discussed issue is "things they had to do that they didn't want to do, like killing people."

Mr. King agrees that talking about the war, even with loved ones, can be difficult. "I don't feel a lot of times that people feel what I've been through," he said. After Mr. King's diagnosis, his psychiatrist prescribed several anti-depressants. But the medicine caused a new set of problems: hallucinations, loss of emotion, and lethargy. These side effects escalated until Mr. King's wife left him and threatened divorce. That's when Mr. King discovered the PMIM website and began e-mailing and chatting online with other veterans. Eventually, he and his wife reunited.

The Kings aren't the only family to struggle through a soldier's homecoming. Last June, USA Today reported that the number of active-duty soldiers getting divorced had risen 28 percent since 2003, the year of the Iraq invasion. "Sometimes veterans aren't ready to love their families," Mr. Kinsey explained. "The vet has to decompress." Individual units and bases, especially larger ones like Fort Bragg and Fort Drum, have responded to this need by offering support programs for returning soldiers and their families. Hearts Toward Home and PMIM have similar programs.

Churches can also help returning soldiers and their families. Mr. Kinsey recommended that churches located in a strong military community have a "qualified veteran in the congregation begin a ministry to returning soldiers." Dr. Cantrell has designed a reintegration workbook, and several churches have organized retreats that use it to help troops and their families. Since isolation is a symptom of PTSD, Dr. Cantrell hopes more churches will reach out to hurting soldiers.

"A lot of problems are spiritual," Mr. Kinsey said. Often, veterans have tried unsuccessfully to overcome PTSD and they're ready to try something new: "I don't hit them on the head with Scripture, but the Bible is a book of medicine. I tell them, 'PTSD may never heal, but God can help you live with it.'"

Although Dr. Cantrell described her approach to counseling as secular, she said that faith is an important component in a soldier's recovery: "If we stay on our level as humans, we can't make sense of things. There are no answers or reasoning to explain war, so we have to rise above that and find some spiritual significance."

Mr. Shumate agrees: "I'm more mindful of the grace God has given me, and the struggle of others around the world." He believes God helps him now, just as He did in Iraq: "Everyone else [in Iraq] had an ever-present fear of the unknown. I could trust in the Lord, knowing that I was no safer at PCC [Pensacola Christian College] than I was in Iraq because I was still in the hand of God."

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