Jimmy was alone and cold in the snowy climate of Minot Air Force Base, North Dakota. On orders that did not permit his wife and young son to be with him for the previous 18 months, his wife left him and now he had to reconcile himself to moving on without them. In 30 days he would be unemployed, part of the Air Force’s reduction of personnel.
By joining the Air Force he had escaped a life of gangs and drug dealing that had landed his brother in prison. But now, with his mother sick, he could not turn to his family. His life out of control, to whom could he turn?
Maybe the navy chaplain he knew in Okinawa would help, even though he had left active duty. Jimmy dialed his number. “Hello, this is Chaplain Bemel, how may I help you?”
How We Will Help People
For many service members a chaplain was their lifeline at a time of dire need. Spiritual crisis, emotional trauma, physical debility, a chaplain is there for active duty personnel. But such difficulties do not end when a veteran sheds his uniform for the last time. Confronted with transitioning to civilian life, the need for chaplain support can be greater. But . . .
- Active duty chaplains are busy taking care of their soldiers, Marines, sailors, airmen, and Coastguardsmen. Many of them are deployed with their people. They simply cannot shoulder the responsibility of caring for veterans.
- The Veterans Administration does not have enough chaplains to minister to the patients in their hospitals, let alone their clinics and other facilities.
- Wounded Warriors, The Soldiers Project, and other worthwhile organizations are taking care of the critically wounded, physically and emotionally, or training heath care professionals to do so better.
What about the veterans who do not have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or are not disabled to the point where they rate care at a VA facility? To where can they turn at a moment of crisis and know they can speak to someone who understands their situation, has shared their experiences?
Three reserve chaplains who personally know the challenges of re-entering civilian life decided to do fill this gap. Rabbi Kevin Bemel, Father Christopher Allen, and Dr. Bryan Dove founded A HIGHER CALLING – Chaplains for Veterans. Our mission is straightforward: Ensure every veteran and family member can speak with a chaplain. Our plan is simple. We are recruiting our colleagues to:
Provide round-the-clock chaplain access to veterans and their family members.
By dialing toll-free, (800) 80-VETS-4, any veteran from World War II to the Gulf Wars can speak to a chaplain. So can their family members. They will not be asked in which branch they served, whether they were wounded or disabled, what type of discharge they received, or if they have a religious affiliation. They will have to answer only one question:
“How may I help you?”
Who We Will Help
Currently there are more than 21 million veterans. If only ¼ of 1% of them need a chaplain to help them that is 52,000 veterans that we seek to serve. What is at stake? Consider just three statistics:
- The rate of suicide by World War II veterans is almost four times higher than other people of their age with no military service.
- Despite numerous programs to help them find jobs, the unemployment rate among post-9/11 veterans is 10%, 37% higher than the 7.3% rate for all Americans.
- A 2011 Pew survey reports that 44% of post-9/11 veterans are having difficulty adjusting to civilian life.
While multiple reasons underlie all of these challenges, part of the solution is providing veterans with the mental and spiritual support they need to overcome these difficulties. A HIGHER CALLING – Chaplains for Veterans will make sure every veteran has this assistance.
The Vital Service We Offer
We aim to have a chaplain answer every call. If all the veteran needs is to chat with someone who has shared his experiences a chaplain is there. When a veteran is in crisis, voicemail will not do.
During their active duty service Chaplains Allen, Bemel, and Dove helped thousands of service members and their families with issues including ongoing traumatic injury, marital problems, child custody, personal finances, physical and mental health, and life-cycle events. After entering the reserves they continue to take care of hundreds of reservists, veterans, and their family members.
The program is simplicity itself. A nationwide toll-free number has been set up, (800) 80-VETS-4. A veteran calls this number and is automatically forwarded to a chaplain on duty. From there everything depends on why the veteran is calling. Many just need someone to talk to who understands the challenges of military life and transitioning to the civilian world. For more complex matters, the chaplain may connect the person to other resources.
Reserve, retired, and former military chaplains have been recruited to answer calls. They represent the broad range of denominations among service members. As is the case in the military, they take care of people regardless of religious affiliation. However, if a veteran or family member would like to speak to a chaplain of a particular denomination, a chaplain of that denomination is available to handle such a call.