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Reaching out to service veterans

Offering support: Deacon Gary Stone with his two sons Paul and Michael who themselves are veterans.

Offering support: Deacon Gary Stone with his two sons Paul and Michael who themselves are veterans.

By Deacon Gary Stone

THE 100th anniversary of ANZAC has been given massive media attention. Many commemorative events over the coming four years will remember the sacrifices and service of the many men and women and their families who experienced the Great War.

Already on our television screens we have seen a number of documentaries reflecting on the Gallipoli Campaign.

We do well to remember these events of long ago.

One can but be shocked by the tragedy of this conflict, and we must come away with a firm resolve that such insane extremes of death and destruction are never allowed to be arrived at ever again.

But in the midst of the blood and the mud, from the crucible of war, the original Anzacs came home to imprint upon our society, a unique national character – of service before self, of the need for justice and integrity, and the conviction that all people deserve a fair go.

These troops went to war with chaplains who impressed Christian values upon them, and the Christian values our service people brought back with them shaped our nation’s identity.

The early veterans were prominent in our churches, Church organisations like Knights of the Southern Cross, as well as being active in ex-service organisations.

All these connections supported their rehabilitation as they reintegrated into society.

Forces of evil have continued to rampage over the past century, and though we have been a nation that within our own borders has lived in peace, we have subsequently gone to the assistance of other nations, many times.

Many peoples of the world have experienced us as good neighbours through the brave men and women who have continued to answer the blessed call of being peacemakers and peacekeepers (Matthew 8).

Our military and police have a reputation throughout the world of being fair, firm, friendly and compassionate.

Most have continued in lives of service and humanitarian concern, long after they handed in their uniforms, and entered civilian life.

Like their Anzac forebears, their service has left them with woundedness – in their bodies, minds and souls.

A recent ABC episode of Four Corners entitled “When the war comes home” explored the lives of four veterans of recent conflicts.

As a veteran myself, and now a chaplain to veterans, I thought the episode accurately embraced a snapshot of the wider veteran community.

Firstly, all four had been affected physically, mentally and spiritually by their service.  One veteran was classified as Totally and Permanently Incapacitated.

His marriage had failed and he was struggling to enter another.

One veteran had experienced difficulty but had successfully undergone a rehabilitation program and was hoping to re-enter the workforce.

One veteran has committed himself to working for the care of veterans, in his case, with a special focus on rescuing those who are now “homeless”.

Tragically one veteran had committed suicide while waiting for his claim for government assistance to be approved.

I would submit that most veterans fall into one of these four categories.

Our veterans and their families pay a heavy price long after they come home from war and, as my family knows, and I relate in my book Duntroon to Dili, when I came home from war, war came home with me. I have been able to rehabilitate myself to some degree by becoming a carer for veterans.

But it has been a long and winding road to get to this point and I have had the full power of the Holy Spirit, an understanding wife and family, and the wise counsel of many in the Church and the wider community to help me.

Most veterans have not been so blessed. Too many have become “lost sheep”.

In addition to the few remaining Second World War vets and about 45,000 Korean, Malaysian and Vietnam veterans still alive, we have had more than 60,000 service people deployed on overseas operations in recent years, most of whom are now discharged from the military, and about one-third are now living in Queensland.

Some are accessing rehabilitation services but few are aware of the need for holistic body, mind and spirit healing and growth.

Too many are isolated and withdrawn from society.

Noting that there have been no spiritual inputs to any of the programs offered by the Department of Veterans Affairs and ex-service organisations, in April, I approached Brisbane’s Archbishop Mark Coleridge and received his blessing and appointment to initiate a focused spiritual ministry to veterans known as Veterans Care. Details of this ministry are on my website www.garystone.com.au.

With a current team of supporters and in due course an expanding number of chaplains and pastoral carers we are proactively promoting spirituality as an essential component of veteran rehabilitation programs.

Through literature, speaking engagements, personal testimonies and walking alongside veterans and their families we are bringing the love of Jesus into the lives of those affected by conflict.

But too many veterans are still suffering in silence, not knowing that a better life is possible.

We can all play a part in caring for veterans by appraising them of the possibilities of spiritual healing and growth.

But making connection with these wounded souls is a challenge in itself. Having left the military they “disappear”.

Most of our younger veterans are not joining ex-service organisations, are not in contact with the Church, and are resigned to a life of disability.

The Gospel reading for April 26 was John 10:11-18. “I am the Good Shepherd who gives up his life for his sheep.”

Veterans are very familiar with this term “shepherd”.

It is the military radio call sign for the chaplain, and most veterans would have had a positive experience with chaplains.

Veterans will open up with chaplains but we need to be able to find them.

Many of our veterans are like “lost sheep”, and we need people who will help us seek them out and help get them back to the “Good Shepherd” who will care for them.

Your word of encouragement may be the word that will lead a veteran to new life through involvement in a rehabilitation program.

Please be on the look out for veterans and when you meet them, thank them for their service, and appraise them of this new ministry available in our archdiocese.

Deacon Gary Stone is chaplain to the ex-service community in the Archdiocese of Brisbane and has  been deployed on operations to Malaysia, Fiji coup, Iran-Iraq, East Timor, Bougainville, Asian tsunami, Solomon Islands and Timor Leste.

Written by: Guest Contributor
Catholic Church Insurance

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