God, The Army, And PTSD

An Army Chaplain's MemoirFrom a 2009 article in the Boston Review by Tara McKelvey:

When Roger Benimoff arrived at the psychiatric building of the Coatesville, Pennsylvania veterans’ hospital, he was greeted by a message carved into a nearby tree stump: “Welcome Home.” It was a reminder that things had not turned out as he had expected.

In Faith Under Fire, a memoir about Benimoff’s life as an Army chaplain in Iraq, Benimoff and co-author Eve Conant describe his return from Iraq to his family in Colorado and subsequent assignment to Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He retreated deep into himself, spending hours on the computer and racking up ten thousand dollars in debt on eBay. Above all, he was angry and jittery, scared even of his young sons, and barely able to make it through the day. He was eventually admitted to Coatesville’s “Psych Ward.” For a while the lock-down facility was his home. He wondered where God was in all of this, and was not alone in that bewilderment and pain.

In a 2004 study of approximately 1,400 Vietnam veterans, almost 90 percent Christian, researchers at Yale found that nearly one-third said the war had shaken their faith in God and that their religion no longer provided comfort for them. The Yale study found that these soldiers were more likely than others to seek mental health treatment through the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) when they came home. It was not that these veterans had unusually high confidence in government or especially good information about services at VA hospitals. Instead, they had fallen into a spiritual abyss and were desperate to find a way out. The trauma of war seems to be especially acute for men and women whose faith in a benevolent God is challenged by the carnage they have witnessed.

Of course, not all veterans with mental health concerns are led to VA hospitals by a loss of faith: many simply want to get a night’s sleep without being terrorized by nightmares. Whatever kind of assistance they are seeking, it has been in increasingly short supply. The decline in resources for veterans’ mental health services started in the 1980s, as part of a nationwide effort to move psychiatric patients into outpatient treatment. The number of inpatient psychiatric beds fell from 9,000 in the late ’80s to 3,000 by 2008…

Read more here.

See also: U.S. Army Has A ‘Spiritual Fitness’ Test

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  • DeepCough

    Well, Christian soldiers, what do you think the adage “War is Hell” means?

    • WhiteRose

      Life is hell… try to focus on the good bits :)

  • DeepCough

    Well, Christian soldiers, what do you think the adage “War is Hell” means?

  • WhiteRose

    Life is hell… try to focus on the good bits :)

  • Hadrian999

    I find it interesting that he questioned where god was during his personal pain but not during his duty in iraq,
    I was in Iraq and there was plenty ugliness there, you couldn’t miss it, and we seem to only be concerned with returning soldiers and the cost to us, what about the populations that live in the war zone and never get to go home what happens when an entire nation is effected with ptsd.

    • Robobagons

      You do have a point…I think after everything is said and done, the US will give those countries aid, by giving them high interest loans to either help them with creating jobs, and or to reconstruct the place, either way, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for them sadly =/, or anyone for that matter.

    • Honu

      Great point. I can’t imagine the trauma done on a mass scale there. Thank you for your service. I never believed going into Iraq the first time around was the best decision and I certainly didn’t buy into the horsesh-t reasons we started there under Bush II but I do honor your service despite.

      • Hadrian999

        I never believed in any of it either

    • Jordan

      “I find it interesting that he questioned where god was during his personal pain but not during his duty in iraq.”

      Excellent observation.

      IMO, his duty in Iraq was not enough alone to make him even think about God, hence questioning his faith. Or if he were to think of God during his duty, at that time, his concept of God was sufficient enough to provide him an explanation for the things happening around him. Again, IMO, personal pain is what gives us faith, after all, in whatever concept of God we choose. In no disrespect to Christians or Christianity, I believe, that particular, mainstream ‘brand’ of God is sometimes accepted by many without any real application to daily life or how personal faith affects everything. I can say that for myself, at least. What I saw in this article was a hopeless, desperate man who had questions that were not being answered. For some of us, this shakes our entire foundation of everything we have been taught to believe. At that point, in my experience, one either becomes agnostic or atheist or seeks to find God on a level that is personal to him.

      Great article.

      • Monstadog

        Personal tragedy is a given it comes in to every life. When we blame God for these evils we have missed the point, He doesn’t allow them to happen because he hates us but just the opposite he is forgiving even to those who commit the act. God loves all man even the most vile, he is the respecter of no man and we can all be forgivin. See even at our darkest hour if we see god and not the work of man we will have peace he didn’t kill any one some man did and he can still be forgivin. God doesn’t start wars we do, we are responsible

  • Hadrian999

    I find it interesting that he questioned where god was during his personal pain but not during his duty in iraq,
    I was in Iraq and there was plenty ugliness there, you couldn’t miss it, and we seem to only be concerned with returning soldiers and the cost to us, what about the populations that live in the war zone and never get to go home what happens when an entire nation is effected with ptsd.

  • Anonymous

    You do have a point…I think after everything is said and done, the US will give those countries aid, by giving them high interest loans to either help them with creating jobs, and or to reconstruct the place, either way, there is no light at the end of the tunnel for them sadly =/, or anyone for that matter.

  • Honu

    Great point. I can’t imagine the trauma done on a mass scale there. Thank you for your service. I never believed going into Iraq the first time around was the best decision and I certainly didn’t buy into the horsesh-t reasons we started there under Bush II but I do honor your service despite.

  • Hadrian999

    I never believed in any of it either

  • Jordan

    “I find it interesting that he questioned where god was during his personal pain but not during his duty in iraq.”

    Excellent observation.

    IMO, his duty in Iraq was not enough alone to make him even think about God, hence questioning his faith. Or if he were to think of God during his duty, at that time, his concept of God was sufficient enough to provide him an explanation for the things happening around him. Again, IMO, personal pain is what gives us faith, after all, in whatever concept of God we choose. In no disrespect to Christians or Christianity, I believe, that particular, mainstream ‘brand’ of God is sometimes accepted by many without any real application to daily life or how personal faith affects everything. I can say that for myself, at least. What I saw in this article was a hopeless, desperate man who had questions that were not being answered. For some of us, this shakes our entire foundation of everything we have been taught to believe. At that point, in my experience, one either becomes agnostic or atheist or seeks to find God on a level that is personal to him.

    Great article.

  • David Frost

    Both of my Grandfathers were WW2 veterans that served in the US army and fought in Germany. I’m a vet as well, but never saw combat, but I’ve have the hardest life experiences of anyone I know. I know for a fact it made us all have a far firmer degree of faith.

    All in all I understand why people returning from Iraq might have a lot of views which are very different from the conclusions my grandfathers came too, because the Iraq war they were sent over there by a President that claims to be Christian to fight religious fanatics from another belief system. Me personally I think that we are in the Middle East over our oil interests. Bush just used Christianity to persuade people to vote for him, predominantly because the largest percentage of Christians are Baptists and the Republican party pretty much bought them and own them because of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” organization and Liberty University. Sadly those are the loudest and most obnoxious of us all, and provide lots news organizations great stories of “bigoted culturally backwards ignorant Christians” to boost ratings. A lot of other Christians, even other evangelical fundamentalists, like the Pentecostal ones I am and I know, vote Democrat, even though most of us side pro-life, namely due to the disgust we feel toward privatization, deregulation, the Iraq war, and trickle down economics and the intense emphasis we place on education, health & healthcare, and fighting poverty. Actually almost all of them I know voted for Al Gore in 2000, and John Kerry in 2004. That and their is a huge distinction between Christianity and Islam, I am not saying anything bad about them. But being accused of something a Muslim extremist does is about as rational as being asked why we don’t allow married people contraceptives when I am a Protestant and that is a part of Catholic theology, sadly both accusations happen all the time these days.

    For those of you that are also Vets but saw combat (and the ones that didn’t)…Thanks, you are all awesome, I am very grateful for your service!

  • David Frost

    Both of my Grandfathers were WW2 veterans that served in the US army and fought in Germany. I’m a vet as well, but never saw combat, but I’ve have the hardest life experiences of anyone I know. I know for a fact it made us all have a far firmer degree of faith.

    All in all I understand why people returning from Iraq might have a lot of views which are very different from the conclusions my grandfathers came too, because the Iraq war they were sent over there by a President that claims to be Christian to fight religious fanatics from another belief system. Me personally I think that we are in the Middle East over our oil interests. Bush just used Christianity to persuade people to vote for him, predominantly because the largest percentage of Christians are Baptists and the Republican party pretty much bought them and own them because of Jerry Falwell’s “Moral Majority” organization and Liberty University. Sadly those are the loudest and most obnoxious of us all, and provide lots news organizations great stories of “bigoted culturally backwards ignorant Christians” to boost ratings. A lot of other Christians, even other evangelical fundamentalists, like the Pentecostal ones I am and I know, vote Democrat, even though most of us side pro-life, namely due to the disgust we feel toward privatization, deregulation, the Iraq war, and trickle down economics and the intense emphasis we place on education, health & healthcare, and fighting poverty. Actually almost all of them I know voted for Al Gore in 2000, and John Kerry in 2004. That and their is a huge distinction between Christianity and Islam, I am not saying anything bad about them. But being accused of something a Muslim extremist does is about as rational as being asked why we don’t allow married people contraceptives when I am a Protestant and that is a part of Catholic theology, sadly both accusations happen all the time these days.

    For those of you that are also Vets but saw combat (and the ones that didn’t)…Thanks, you are all awesome, I am very grateful for your service!

  • Monstadog

    Personal tragedy is a given it comes in to every life. When we blame God for these evils we have missed the point, He doesn’t allow them to happen because he hates us but just the opposite he is forgiving even to those who commit the act. God loves all man even the most vile, he is the respecter of no man and we can all be forgivin. See even at our darkest hour if we see god and not the work of man we will have peace he didn’t kill any one some man did and he can still be forgivin. God doesn’t start wars we do, we are responsible

  • http://www.facebook.com/dirtybeautiful sfgirl

    Isn’t Satan the one responsible for sin and not God? Why is he never mentioned? And articles like this only reinforce the twisted belief that these wars are acts of God. He could step in and eradicate sin and Satan right now and rescue everyone but then we wouldnt have this “free will” to choose good or evil thereby making Jesus’ death obsolete. If we have no choice in right or wrong because God has chosen it for us, then I suggest a person believing this should become atheist. The Bible and God and all these stand for are pointless. Yet those who persecute will always be around to send messages like these. Christianity is the new Counterculture. I remember an interview where Gene Simmons mentioned how he hated to be “judged” by Christians and quoted the well known verse “Judge not that you be not judged.” However he and many others are the first ones to judge Christians. Hypocrite. It’s not only for “Christianity” anymore.

  • SFgirl

    Isn’t Satan the one responsible for sin and not God? Why is he never mentioned? And articles like this only reinforce the twisted belief that these wars are acts of God. He could step in and eradicate sin and Satan right now and rescue everyone but then we wouldnt have this “free will” to choose good or evil thereby making Jesus’ death obsolete. If we have no choice in right or wrong because God has chosen it for us, then I suggest a person believing this should become atheist. The Bible and God and all these stand for are pointless. Yet those who persecute will always be around to send messages like these. Christianity is the new Counterculture. I remember an interview where Gene Simmons mentioned how he hated to be “judged” by Christians and quoted the well known verse “Judge not that you be not judged.” However he and many others are the first ones to judge Christians. Hypocrite. It’s not only for “Christianity” anymore.