How to thank veterans? Offer help

Candace Barron

Candace Barron

By Candace Barron
Special Contributor

As I reflect on Veterans Day, I look back on my life and remember the years gone by: years when I didn’t even notice Veterans Day, years when I was serving on active duty, years as a layperson when I stood as the pastor recognized veterans, years as the pastor when I invited veterans to stand and be recognized.

For me, these memories raise the question: Beyond giving them a moment in the middle of a worship service once a year, what can we do in the United Methodist Church to help the veterans in our congregations and communities?

Now don’t get me wrong; having veterans stand up is good—but we need to stand up for our veterans, too. Because only a small percentage of our current population has actually served in the military, we sometimes have a hard time relating to the issues faced by veterans. Many veterans and their stories are invisible unless they tell you or you ask.

Partnerships needed

Education is central to making our churches more effective partners with the Veterans Administration (VA) and working with other veterans’ organizations. I was happy to see many United Methodist pastors at a recent VA Community Action Board (CAB) Summit. We were standing up and standing in for our veterans and their dependents at that meeting.

I saw some of the same people at the VA Mental Health Summit the week prior, and was impressed with the Suicide Prevention Panel that spoke to us. It reminded me of the lectionary text from October 9 about the 10 lepers (Luke 17:11-19). Only one was willing to return and thank Jesus, and Jesus asks, “Were not all healed?” Jesus is central to the healing of our veterans from the visible and invisible wounds of war.

Recovering from moral injury—the experience of a veteran who has witnessed or participated in an act that contradicts deeply held moral beliefs—is a significant area for clergy and churches to partner with the Veterans Administration. There are six VA CAB groups in the state: El Dorado, Russellville, Searcy, North Central, Jonesboro and Hot Springs. Connect with the CAB in your area to learn how you can make a difference right there in your community. For more information, send a message to vaclergypartnership@gmail.com.

Tangible thanks

One of the questions I hear often is “How can we thank our veterans?” We have all benefited from their sacrifices, and it is time for us to do something to help. This is how I answer that question:

Personally, I’m not concerned with whether someone chooses to stand for the national anthem, as we’ve seen covered recently in the news. I stand, but I served so that you can make that decision for yourself—and besides, it’s largely symbolic. What I care about far more is making sure that our veterans have access to health care. What I care about is that our veterans have access to mental health care. What I care about is that female veterans are acknowledged and treated. What I care about is that we put our money where our mouth is and fund said care.

What makes me angry, as angry as Jesus in the temple, is that 20 veterans a day are killing themselves, and the state of Arkansas is not giving a single dollar to help prevent it. We don’t even have a state-run call center. So when an Arkansas veteran or civilian has suicidal thoughts and reaches out for help, the call might be answered in Tennessee or Michigan or Washington D.C., not by someone who can understand the perspective of a rural Arkansan.

How can we thank our veterans? By providing the help they need and deserve. Be aware. Advocate for changes in state priorities. Can you imagine if 20 kids were dying every day from a treatable disease what a massive reaction we would have in the media, and from politicians, doctors and churches? Saying “thank you” is great, but fighting for veterans’ wellbeing is where we can make a real difference. We can say thank you all day long and not help anyone. It is harder to be an advocate, sometimes in ways that may go against our own financial interests. But the situation of many of our veterans brings this Scripture passage to mind:

“What if one of you said, ‘Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!’? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs?” (James 2:16, CEB)

I am proud to be a veteran and a United Methodist. Our church has had a positive impact on the world with our passion, dedication and determination, from working on the eradication of malaria to fighting childhood hunger. I am convinced we can have a positive impact on reducing veteran suicides in our state and through our faith help our veterans come all the way home.

The Rev. Dr. Barron, pastor of Gardner Memorial and Amboy UMCs, served five years on active duty in the U.S. Army and three years in the U.S. Army Reserve. She was stationed as a military police officer both stateside and in Germany. To contact her, email candace.barron@arumc.org.