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Clergy workshop on veterans' PTSD

Remarks of U.S. Senator Daniel K. Akaka

Thu, August 9, 2012

Senator Akaka speaks to over 90 religious leaders from Oahu and Maui at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base Hawaii Chapel

Aloha!  It is so good to be back in Hawaii on this sacred Mokapu peninsula, and to return to this beautiful Chapel. 

Welcome to our forum for clergy of all religious faiths.   Mahalo for being here today.  I appreciate your dedication to helping our service members and veterans recover from the unique challenges some of them face as a direct result of their war experiences. 

I hope that today's discussion will help you better understand the unique challenges that our combat veterans face in returning to their communities, their families, and their jobs, and how you can help them. 

Before we begin, I would like to ask that we take a moment for reflection or prayer, for all of our veterans and servicemembers who are recovering from visible or invisible wounds suffered in service to our nation, and for their families, and for all those who are in harm's way as we gather here today.

[moment of silence]

Over the past decade, this Chapel has been a place of sanctuary and renewal for so many service members returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for their families, who sacrifice so much along with them. 

I want to express my mahalo to Chaplain Bob Delis and his staff for all that they do for our wounded warriors and their families, and for all of our Kaneohe Marines.  And mahalo nui loa for letting us use this facility for today's forum. 

I have served on the Veterans' Affairs Committee since I joined the U.S. Senate in 1990 - 22 years.  The committee focuses a great deal of attention on veteran health care, how we can best provide medical care  for both physical and mental wounds through the programs and activities of our VA hospitals and clinics. 

And despite the increase in veterans from the new wars, I think services have improved overall.  We are doing a much better job of helping those with invisible wounds, by conducting mental health evaluations immediately when they return from deployments and requiring checkups over time, to make sure we get them help when they need it before things spiral out of control. 

Yet, I think we all agree that a person's spiritual strength and purpose can also play an important role in his or her well being. 

As members of the clergy, our troops and veterans look up to you as religious leaders of our community.  Those in need of help often seek your guidance to give them direction, advice, and comfort. 

Problems affecting some veterans, such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or depression, can be invisible to the eye and may be slow to develop.  Those suffering may not want to seek help from VA or the military due to shame - or because they are worried about how it might affect their jobs or their military careers.  Instead, veterans or their families may seek you out because of the trust they have in you.

You are on the front lines, helping those who have served our nation.  Mahalo. 

I hope today's forum will help you help them.  We will discuss the many ways combat deployment can affect our troops and their families, and outline the many programs and services that VA and veteran service groups can provide. 

In the Chapel with us this morning are experts from VA and our military chaplain community.  They will provide you with the most current information on war related trauma and its impact on returning veterans, and detail VA health programs that can help them.

Sadly, providing care for PTSD and other mental health problems will be an ongoing cost of war long into the future.  When we send someone into combat, we have a sacred obligation to care for them and their families if they are injured in service to our nation.  Even as I speak, troops are still deploying, leaving their families behind.  Others are returning home, some of them experiencing difficulties in readjustment.

As clergy, you are part of a vital network of community support that can help veterans and families in need of care.  I hope that today's forum will empower you with tools to help you minister and care for them and help them recover. 

With that, let me express my thanks to each of you.  As clergy, you have chosen a life of compassion and service to our community.  And today, you are volunteering your time and dedicating yourselves to helping our wounded warriors.  Mahalo for your service.


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