Posted Online: Jan. 05, 2013, 6:10 am

Combat PTSDs with faith

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By Leon Lagerstam,

Army Chaplain the Rev. Scott Fluegel
ROCK ISLAND -- Faith can combat the traumas of combat.

Learn how by attending a PTSD & TBI in the Church workshop from 1 to 3 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 9, in the Jardine Auditorium at Trinity Rock Island, 2701 17th St. Seating is limited and reservations are recommended by contacting Stephanie Burrough at (309) 779-3077 or

Army chaplain and Vera French Community Mental Health Center representative the Rev. Scott Fluegel will lead a presentation that will provide clergy and other interested people a basic definition of post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain Injury and discuss what combat veterans and their families face and need after returning from duty overseas.

"I hope clergy will have a better idea of how to minister to and provide religious support to combat veterans and their families," he said. "An individual's faith can bring about healing, and that's the bottom line, to bring about healing for combat veterans and their families."

Co-hosts, in addition to the Vera French Center, are the Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health and Jason's Box, an organization founded in 2009 to improve the health and well-being of military men and women.

The organization was formed by Teri L. Johnson, of Moline, after her son, Cpl. Jason G. Pautsch, was killed in action April 10, 2009, in Mosul, Iraq. For more information, visit

Jason's Box began its mission by sending more than 1,000 care packages to military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan to thank them for their service and boost morale. A second phase involved enlisting help from local mental health providers to identify resources and treatment options and to hold training workshops.

The clergy is one of those groups, although earlier workshops were held only for medical and psychiatric providers, said Dr. David Deopere, Robert Young Center president.

"I was approached a number of years ago with an idea for a veterans' counseling center,"Dr. Deopere said. "My response was, before we considered doing that, we should try to identify resources available in the greater Quad-Cities, bring them together and discuss what we all could do to help with PTSDs returning veterans were experiencing.

"We decided we didn't need another counseling center or organization because we have discovered a plethora of willing providers who are ready to step up and help with the insidious problems people coming home were having."

PTSD is a hidden disease with a long history, Dr. Deopere said."It goes back to Gen. Sherman's Civil War days, when it was known as Soldiers' Heart, after noticing many soldiers developed heart disease. It's also been called transient stress disorder, war malaise, shell shock and battle fatigue."

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,853 veterans, nearly 25 percent of veterans report having had difficulty readjusting to civilian life. That increases to 44 percent in those who served in the 10 years after Sept. 11, 2001.

Suicides also have become more prevalent, Dr. Deopere said.

The Veteran Administration's Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America noted 38 out of every 100,000 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans using VA health care committed suicide, compared to 11.5 deaths per 100,000 for the general public.

Efforts to combat those rates and address other mental health issues have included convening local agencies, identifying treatment options, reducing barriers veterans were experiencing and educating different segments of the population, Dr. Deopere said.

One step included mutual agreements between the Robert Young and Vera French centers to move anyone identifying themselves as a military veteran to the front of the line ''if we have a waiting list," he said.

Hospital emergency rooms have agreed to do the same, and "our goal is to have every family practitioner agree to it, too," Dr. Deopere said."We're also working with local law enforcement to provide crisis intervention training."

Training different agencies will help people know what symptoms to look for, he said, adding clergy was included in the list because people do reach out to their ministers for help.

"If we give them the tools and a better understanding of what PTSD is, they will be able to minister to combat veterans and their families in their congregations, mosques, synagogues or other places of worship," Rev. Fluegel said.

"Military service is difficult, demanding and dangerous," Dr. Deopere said. "But returning to civilian life also poses challenges for the men and women who have served in the armed forces.

"I'm a veteran myself and did triage of active military personnel during Vietnam and saw the effects of what was called transient stress disorder. The fact that I saw those guys every day and how they laid their lives on the line makes it mandatory to help veterans and active military personnel any way we can."