NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- After returning from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. military personnel have been killing themselves in alarming numbers. Psychiarists blame the suicides on Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD.
Counselor Brad Pressley is a former member of the U.S. military that faces a new military mission against a growing enemy. Pressley has taken up the task of counseling his fellow soldiers, because he knows the enemy all too well. He suffered from PTSD after several of the men in his unit died in battle.
If you or someone you love needs help, call the Military Ministry's Rapid Response Center at 1-800-444-6006.
"Human instinct is, 'Thank God it wasn't me.' And then immediately the guilt hits you, because yeah, it wasn't you, but maybe it should have been," he explained.
Less Than Half Diagnosed Get Help
Twenty percent of returning troops are diagnosed with PTSD, but less than half actually help for it. Symptoms are numerous including flashbacks, insomnia, headaches and feelings of isolation, guilt, and depression.
These can lead to trouble holding a job, homelessness, divorce rates that are 30 percent higher than the national average, and suicide.
"I was in the room alone -- pulled the gun out -- sat there and looked at it in my lap, considered it, and I really believe that the only thing that kept me was my wife coming back home," Pressley told CBN News.
PTSD is on the rise, because of an unprecedented strain on our troops. The U.S. military has been at war for almost a decade. Since 9/11, deployments are longer and more often with high percentages of soldiers being involved in actual combat, not desk jobs.
Survival rates are actually higher due to advances in battlefield medicine. However lost limbs, brain injuries and other long term neurological problems can contribute to PTSD.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says this crisis impacts all branches of the military.
"It is always a horrible tragedy to see a service member safely off the battlefield only to lose them to this scourge," he said. "We can. We must, and we will do better."
One priority -- expanding the U.S. Army and the U.S. Marine Corps so those who are most frequently deployed can have more time at home.
Another priority -- adding more than 2,000 mental health providers at military treatment facilities to help those in need.
Military Ministry Combats PTSD
In addition to the government response to the rise in PTSD, the Christian community is also stepping forward. Dozens of research studies have indicated that military people with a religious faith have a lower incidence of PTSD, rebound from it faster, and have a lower incidence of suicide than soldiers without faith.
Retired U.S. Army Major General Bob Dees is executive director of Military Ministry, a division of Campus Crusade for Christ International, which offers Christ-centered healing for hundreds of thousands of troops nationwide.
"Their turning point was believing in Jesus and then he led them out of the valley of the shadow of death of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is possible for veterans all around this land, " he explained.
Dees travels the country, training churches to meet the special needs of veterans in their congregations and communities. The ministry also staffs a free, 24-hour hotline where callers can talk to fellow soldiers who have overcome post traumatic stress.
"I was in the Navy, too. I can sympathize with what you're going through," one counselor told a caller.
Family members of servicemen and women are also encouraged to call the hotline.
"Wives often call and say their husband is acting strange, withdrawn, angry, and they're worried and they don't know what to do," said Dorcas Cheever, one of the ministry's telephone counselors.
Nipping the Problem Before It Starts
Military Ministry doesn't just heal servicemen and women after they return from war. They are also trying to stop PTSD before it starts.
Each year, 450,000 new recruits go through boot camp across the country.
"Our staff in concert with chaplains, will touch 200,000 of them and give them spiritual journey for a lifetime," Deed explained. "Help them understand about the person of Jesus. Help them understand about spiritual fitness."
"We would never send a soldier into battle without a helmet or a weapon.," he continued. "Well, we should never send one into combat without the Word of God, without the helmet of salvation, the sword of the spirit, shoes of the Gospel."
From new recruits to battle-hardened veterans, the Military Ministry prays for them by name every day. For this service, all military personnel and their families and friends have to do is just ask.
Pressley knows firsthand the value of the Military Ministry.
"The very first question, if they've been though some traumatic episode is, 'Where was God?'," he said. "We show them that God was there all the time. War and the carnage of war is of man. It's the sinful nature of man. God is right there with you and he knows what you're going through and there is hope in that."