By Greg Munck
As a USMC combat veteran, I have seen firsthand the devastating impact that trauma can have on individuals and their loved ones. Trauma can come in many forms, including physical injuries, emotional distress and the stress of combat. For many veterans, the effects of trauma can linger long after they return home, leading to mental health issues such as PTSD, mTBI and moral injury that can cause depression, anxiety and hopelessness.
We are all in agreement that the most concerning issue facing veterans and active-duty personnel today is suicide. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, an average of 17-22 veterans die by suicide every day in the United States, and recent studies show it could be much higher than that. This is a tragic and unacceptable statistic that we must work to address immediately.
Suicide Prevention Requires a Multifaceted Strategy
Suicide prevention is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach to helping veterans and active-duty personnel process trauma. There are steps that we can take to help prevent suicide and support those who are struggling with the effects of trauma.
The first step is recognizing the warning signs. These may include changes in mood or behavior, social withdrawal, increased substance use and expressing feelings of hopelessness or worthlessness. If you or someone you know is experiencing these symptoms, it is important to seek help immediately.
The Veterans Crisis Line is available 24/7 by dialing 988 to provide support and resources to veterans and their families.
Another important step is promoting resilience, coping skills and faith. This can include:
- Participating in support groups, seeking professional counseling or attending a clinic.
- Engaging in self-care activities such as exercise, hiking and recreation.
- Maintaining strong social connections, whether through family, friends or veteran organizations.
A strong connection with my fellow combat veterans was the biggest thing I was lacking in my personal journey. For any combat veterans looking for a five-day clinic that provides all of these things at no cost, please apply at sofmissions.com (flight, hotel, food and care are included).
Faith Can Be a Powerful Tool in Coping With Trauma
As a pastor, I have found that faith is a powerful tool in coping with trauma and promoting healing. Many veterans find comfort and strength in their religious beliefs, and faith-based organizations can provide a supportive community and a safe space for processing difficult emotions.
There are multiple studies on how faith impacts PTSD, mTBI and moral injury conducted by university researchers. Here are a few of them:
- Duke University Medical Center (2021 study in the “World Journal of Clinical Cases” and 2018 study in the “Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease” by Dr. Harold G. Koenig)
- Luther University (2022 study in the “Psychology of Religion and Spirituality” by Professor Loren Toussaint)
These studies prove that individuals who reported higher levels of spirituality experienced better mental health outcomes, including lower rates of depression, anxiety and PTSD symptoms, as well as greater resilience, positive psychological outcomes and life satisfaction, compared to those who reported lower levels of spirituality.
This is just a sampling of studies that prove faith is a powerful tool for veterans struggling with the psychological effects of combat, including PTSD, mTBI and moral injury. Faith can provide a sense of meaning, forgiveness, purpose, mission and resilience, helping veterans cope with trauma and find healing and recovery.
There Is No Substitute for Mental Health Care from a Licensed Professional
No matter how you cope personally, it is important to note that faith is not a substitute for professional mental health care. Seeking help from a licensed therapist or counselor is essential for those struggling with mental health issues.
The three domains in processing trauma that I work with veterans on through my foundation, The Guide Soldier Foundation, and as the west coast ambassador for SOF Missions (sofmissions.com) are:
- Psychological Domain: PTSD
- Cognitive Domain: mTBI
- Spiritual Domain: moral injury
There are many different treatments in the Psychological Domain, including cognitive-behavioral therapy, eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), and exposure therapy. It is vital to find an approach that works for you and to work with a trained professional who can provide guidance and support throughout the process.
As a pastor and combat veteran, I believe that it is essential to approach these issues with compassion, understanding and a willingness to seek help when needed. By recognizing the warning signs of suicide, promoting resilience, utilizing coping skills, embracing faith and engaging in processing trauma, we can work together to prevent suicide and promote healing for ourselves and our fellow veterans.
Greg Munck is a combat-promoted Marine who served his country in the Gulf War. Munck is the author of The Guide: Survival, Warfighting, Peacemaking. He is currently the lead pastor and co-founder of Crossline Community Church in Laguna Hills, California. Munck travels speaking for The Guide Soldier Foundation and SOF Missions, which serves active and veteran military personnel worldwide. He has been married to his wife, Kymbry, since 1992, and together they have five children who you may have seen in TV and film.