Major General Bob Dees, U.S. Army, Retired, AACC Military Director
The mental and behavioral health challenges facing our nation’s military are unprecedented. The military suicide statistics alone are tragic—what the former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff termed “a national epidemic.” These suicide dynamics, combined with the lingering effects of military deployments and combat trauma (physical injury, as well as PTSD and TBI), have created a “perfect storm” in the lives of hundreds of thousands of military personnel and their families. Second and third order impacts of these challenging mental and behavioral health trends include unprecedented levels of veteran unemployment and homelessness, unacceptably high military divorce statistics, disturbing trends among military youth and teens, heightened military domestic violence, and rising rates of military sexual trauma.
While the government (Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, in particular) are working relentlessly to find solutions to this predicament, including very substantial resource commitments, there remains a very pivotal role for Christian Counselors in support of military troops, veterans, and their families. This pivotal role is result of two primary factors:
- There is a nationwide shortage of mental health caregivers, both within the military structure, as well as within communities across our land where National Guard, Reserve, and military veterans reside.
- The quality of mental health providers does not include a sufficient number of faith-based counselors (especially Christian) to serve the predominantly Christian demographic in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Regarding both quantity and quality of military mental and behavioral health counselors, AACC members and other Christian counselors and caregivers across our land can make a unique and significant contribution to multiple generations of warriors and their families. To meet this unprecedented challenge, I strongly encourage Christian counselors and caregivers at all levels of expertise to take a few steps to enhance their ability to provide care and counsel for the military at this critical juncture in our nation’s history.
What can you do as a Christian counselor, chaplain or caregiver?
First, gain greater understanding regarding military culture and the current military operating environment. You don’t have to be an expert, but “cultural expertise” is a definite value add.
Secondly, determine the serving venue that best matches your gifts, talents, and experience:
- As a professional counselor in private practice in a civilian community (ideally as a TRICARE provider)
- As a lay counselor in your church or community outreach program
- As an academician who teaches military personnel or military caregivers
- As a researcher to assess the value added of various programs to address suicide prevention, PTSD, and other related issues
- As a Department of Defense or Department of Veterans Affairs mental or behavioral health employee or contractor
With the requisite skills and a heart of compassion for the military, there are many paths to fulfillment for you and those you counsel.
Thirdly, be reminded that “Faith Makes A Difference.” Particularly within our increasingly secularized military and society-at-large, faith and the associated quality of hope, is an unequaled antidote to despair, disillusionment, and ultimately personal destruction in the form of suicide. Speaking as a former military leader, I know unequivocally that faith (for me, the Christian faith) is extremely relevant to building resilience in advance of trauma, to weathering the storm during trauma, and to bouncing back without getting stuck in the negative emotions of anger, bitterness, and false guilt.
As a fourth and final suggestion, continue to hone your skills, searching for effective best practices and networking with like-minded counseling professionals. The AACC Military Counseling Initiative (MCI) is a “best practice” to prepare you for your service on behalf of the military, veterans, and their families. MCI includes a growing reservoir of military counseling best practices, networking events and a Military Counseling Track at AACC conferences, and affiliation with like-minded Christian counselors who have a heart for the military.
I encourage your outreach to the military. Put into military vernacular, “Uncle Sam wants (and needs) you!” Your compassionate care and counsel can and will make a big difference, in fact all the difference for those struggling between hope and despair, life and death.
I pray that God will provide you wisdom and courage as a Christian counselor and caregiver to begin marching to this pain in our nation’s military. You will find it immensely rewarding as you bring the help, hope, and healing of Jesus Christ to those who so desperately need it. And you will save lives in the process.
Major General (Ret.) Bob Dees, M.S., is the Military Director for the American Association of Christian Counselors and oversees the Military Counseling Initiative Division. He also leads the Liberty University Institute for Military Resilience. Having commanded military units from platoon through division levels, he well understands the mental and behavioral health needs of our military and their families. As a frequent speaker, author of Resilient Warriors, and co-host with Dr. Tim Clinton of the popular Stress & Trauma Care video series, General Dees is a national leader regarding faith-based resilience programs for the military and beyond.