Supporting Our Soldiers-PTSD Info For Chaplains

By Dr. Angie Panos

Our country is facing a crisis of gigantic proportions. Tens of thousands of male and female, young US soldiers have been maimed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Even if they come home with their physical bodies and health intact, there is another war that they must fight within themselves. Large numbers of these returning veterans are showing signs of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The average age of the combat personnel is only 19. Their lack of life experience and stage of spiritual development leave them feeling like there is no way to cope with the atrocities they have witnessed. Once called “shell shock” or “combat fatigue,” PTSD displays symptoms that include flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, feelings of detachment and estrangement from others, irritability, rage, trouble concentrating, emotional outbursts and sleeplessness. PTSD in veterans often coexists with other disorders such as clinical depression and substance abuse.

Another serious psychiatric fallout from the war that we are seeing in mostly young, lower enlisted returning soldiers is suicide. While there are numerous reports of suicides, exact statistics are difficult to gather, as many of these veterans have declined to participate in programs that could monitor them. Services to veterans are severely under funded and are challenged to handle the overwhelming numbers of injured solders. Parents of the veterans that suicide often report that their son or daughter could not get images of dead bodies and injured children out of their minds.

Soldiers typically have lower rates of PTSD in wars that have clear missions, clear enemies, time frames, achievable objectives and adequate resources to carry out the mission. Soldiers typically have higher rates of PTSD in wars with confusion about who is the enemy- such as we are seeing in Iraq. Combat against the insurgency happens in crowded streets, marketplaces and neighborhoods, places where innocent children are likely to be at risk for injury and death. Other factors that increase PTSD are unspecified or changing lengths of deployment, lack of clear mission, high civilian deaths, and lack of substantive rationale for the war.

What can you do in your role as a chaplain to rise to the challenge facing our countrymen? First, educate yourself on PTSD and the need for comprehensive treatment strategies, which include spiritual support. Next, develop resource networks that do outreach to veterans and provide linkages to comprehensive care. Finally, the great need for spiritual support, renewal and healing to the tens of thousands of veterans must be answered by all of us with the skills and opportunity to reach out to these soldiers and assist them in returning to productive lives.

Brief Bio:

Dr. Angie Panos is a psychologist and a board certified expert in traumatic stress with 25 years of experience. She is the mother of a daughter who is currently serving in the military. Dr. Panos is on the Chaplain Training Committee and trains volunteer chaplains for Intermountain Health Care and Primary Children’s Hospital. She is on the Board of Directors of Gift From Within, a nonprofit organization that provides education and resources for trauma survivors and mental health counselors. For more information contact

This article was suggested by The HealthCare Chaplaincy Contact: Rev. Dr. Martha R. Jacobs, BCC Managing Editor, PlainViews – an e-newsletter for chaplains and other spiritual care providers