The Oregon Army National Guard has a suicide rate 35 percent above the national average and near the highest in the combined armed forces, yet mental health resources for citizen soldiers are often unknown or unused. It’s a distressing fact for many who have seen their loved ones struggle with after returning from war, often for multiple tours of duty.
In an effort to address the needs of these service members, approximately 20 pastors, counselors, psychologists and an Army chaplain met at Corban University on Nov. 11 to discuss ways to best coordinate resources and get veterans the care they need, quickly.
“Our dream is that when a soldier calls, they will have access to services within 24 hours,” said Richard Meyers, chair of Corban’s psychology department. “That’s why building this army (of counselors and pastors) is important.”
Oregon Army National Guard Chaplain Scott DelBridge spoke candidly about the situation many soldiers face while deployed and said although military personnel receive resiliency training before going into a war zone, it isn’t enough.
“Oregon is unique in that we don’t have a full time military base,” he said. “In Washington, a soldier can walk onto Ft. Lewis and get immediate help and resources, but that isn’t the case here.” The state and federal government does pay for private counseling services, although DelBridge said counselors need to enroll in the program called Military OneSource. Additionally, he encouraged counselors to network with each other to know who is available to help and where.
Because clergy are often the first person a veteran will come to for help, pastors were encouraged to be part of this support chain.
“The world between clergy and counseling needs to be bridged,” DelBridge said. “Pastors often don’t understand what to do in these situations because they’re not trained.” By connecting pastors with local resources and vice versa, he said he hopes to make a difference in the lives of returning soldiers and their families across the state.
The luncheon was organized by Corban Director of Counseling Services Stephanie Husk, whose son was wounded in Afghanistan during his second tour of duty. This is the second pastors and counselors luncheon she has coordinated at the university.