An Anglican Army chaplain who recently served in Afghanistan has been awarded a Churchill Fellowship to help heal war veterans suffering from spiritual wounds.
Chaplain Rob Sutherland has received a Churchill Fellowship to research programs and methods to help soldiers with spiritual wounds that stem from combat operations and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
Chaplain Sutherland was presented with the award by the NSW Governor, Her Excellency, Professor Marie Bashir, at a ceremony at NSW Government House on Friday, 23 July.
"This is not only a religious project; some define our spirit as that part of us that is not our body or our mind. Spiritual wounds show themselves in things like guilt when we've done nothing wrong, grief, anger, hopelessness, loss of faith; loss of interest in things that we once enjoyed; spiritual wounds can lead to isolation, to depression and even to a loss of a will to live," he said.
He said that the Fellowship will allow him six weeks in the US and Canada, where he hopes to learn from programs that will help Australian soldiers and other Defence personnel and their families. There has also been considerable interest from the wider civilian community including the emergency services and police.
"The Defence Force is working hard to deal with the physical and mental effects of training for and going on operations and while we have some very good programs I hope to find ways to deal with the things that are not physical and not mental," he said.
"Often those with physical or mental health issues also have spiritual injuries. Most of my work won't be religious, but I hope I can also learn some things that military chaplains and churches can do too."
Chaplain Sutherland said while in the US and Canada he will visit about 15 different organizations including Defence establishments, veterans centres, community groups and a trust that is working with wounded warriors in order to find new ways to help our ADF personnel and their families and carers.
He said his experiences working with soldiers and their families convinced him of the need to help them recover from their spiritual wounds and injuries.
"I asked for the fellowship because some of the soldiers and families I have worked with, both on operations and when they returned home are suffering the effects of their deployment," he said.
Chaplain Sutherland said that he is often asked by church and other groups how they can help soldiers and their families. "The willingness to help our veterans is definitely there and churches have a lot they can offer, but no one has given us the simple skills to really help. I hope to learn how we can be a caring and supportive community for our defence personnel and their families."
"We have outstanding people who have done a tough job for their country on active service, but who are now struggling; and we can do more to help them." "This is an operational injury; it's not a sign of weakness or failure although it can feel like it and there are things that we can do to help. The research overseas indicates that we can recover from this, we can feel well again"
The Anglican Bishop to the Defence Force, Bishop Len Eacott, himself a veteran, is most supportive of this project. He said, "I am very eager to see the introduction of programs that care for the spiritual wellbeing of the men and women of our Defence Force. While both Defence and the Department of Veterans Affairs conduct excellent mental and physical rehabilitation programs, I am acutely aware that the injuries to the spirits and souls of our veterans remain as private and untreated wounds. The outcomes from Chaplains Sutherland's research will provide the foundation for new initiatives to correct this gap."
Chaplain Sutherland, who has been padre for 13 of the 36 years he has been in the Army, said he expects to source valuable programs and tools from our Coalition partners that will have immediate benefits for our sailors, soldiers and men and women of the Air Force. "It would be good to be able to introduce some things as early as next year, but some ongoing research will be necessary too."
Article from the Anglican Guardian Adelaide