A two-day Veterans Health Administration training program that took place at Hartford Seminary last week had many practical components, but it was the emotional aspects of connecting with Veterans that made it so powerful for the more than 30 clergy, faith leaders, and Seminary students who attended.
The VA Community Clergy Training Program (CCTP) was organized by the Rev. Dr. Chris Antal, who is a VA chaplain, a Veteran, and earned his Doctor of Ministry at Hartford Seminary (2017). A team of trainers included three other VA staff who are also Veterans, Chaplain James Parnell, Chaplain Rotunda East, and Ben Kaler, as well as Veteran and guest speaker Leroy Enck. They joined the Rev. Dr. Antal to speak the Veteran’s experience, and about different aspects of working with Veterans who come to congregations and their faith leaders for support.
The intent was to provide clergy with information about readjustment difficulties and unique health issues such as post-traumatic stress, depression, and moral injury. Modules included “Spiritual Care with Veterans and their Families” and “Mental Health Services and Referrals.”
One of the emotional connections came on the second day during a reconciliation ceremony that involved U.S. citizens helping Veterans shoulder the burden of war’s painful aftermath. At one point during the ceremony, Veterans formed a circle, and civilians made a larger circle around them, putting a hand on their arms and shoulders to symbolically share their pain and acknowledge their own responsibility for military interventions made on their behalf.
Participants completed evaluations at the end of the training, and almost everyone said the training improved their pastoral care skills to better serve Veterans, service members and their families, and improved their ability to refer Veterans to a VA facility. Most said they would “very much” recommend this training to other clergy.
For more information about the VA Community Clergy Training Program (CCTP), please visit the National Chaplain Center Eventbrite page at this link.