On ‘Surrendering to One’

We are 17 years into the war on terrorism. During that time, hundreds of thousands of our American brothers and sisters have faced the horrors of war. Many are in desperate need of spiritual healing.

Their despair is deep. Too often, it is fatal. The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that, on average, 20 vets take their own lives each day. Veterans’ advocate Richard Glickstein notes that, over the past 15 years, the federal government has instituted 1,100 suicide-prevention programs for our servicemen and women. Yet the suicide rate has remained unchanged.

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The recent film “Surrender Only to ONE” frankly portrays the rigors of combat and how they can affect the mind, body and spirit. Only those who have been in combat can truly know the weight a warrior carries on each mission. Too often that burden does lasting damage. PTSD can be just as deadly as an IED and more difficult to manage than the chaos of a back-alley ambush.

It’s something the producer of “Surrender,” Lt. Col. Damon Friedman, knows all too well. And Friedman is determined to do something about it.

In addition to serving as an active duty special operations officer and film producer, Friedman wears a third hat — as president of Shield of Faith Missions. In that role, he has one objective: “to provide the hope that our men and women who have gone into combat, who have defended this country, to give them the hope that they need.”

While the government has tried to help those with PTSD, Glickstein says, “The reality is what we’ve done so far is not working.”

Current VA guidelines for treating PTSD include both trauma-focused treatment that is personalized to the experience of the individual serviceman, as well as a pharmaceutical mainstay of mental health, an SSRI anti-depressant.

Friedman poses this question: “If we really truly care about providing a solution for our men and women, are we providing every viable option?”

During a Nov. 29 panel discussion at The Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based think tank, participants talked about their personal observations of how spiritual healing builds up resilience against suicide.

Friedman spoke of his personal battle against PTSD darkness. Glickstein cited work done by Tyler Vanderweele, Ph.D., and Harold Koenig, M.D., that shows religious practice can reduce suicide risk.

Indeed, frequent attendance to religious services is associated with significantly decreased suicide rates.

Dr. LeMay described his work to activate the body’s “rest and repair” system to ratchet down the “fight or flight” response that is overstimulated in PTSD. He has found prayer and spirituality to be an invaluable tool in doing this.

These men have no wish to force soldiers to attend religious services or complete a mandatory spiritual fitness regimen. But they do want to make the information available to them.

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Servicemen and women should be informed of what organizations such as SOF Missions have learned firsthand: that there can be redemption through a power greater than ourselves, a power that can reach down through the deepest brokenness. And God willing, lives will be saved.

Kevin Pham, M.D., first entered the field of health policy studies as a graduate fellow at The Heritage Foundation, a think tank based in Washington, D.C.

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