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updated: 8/8/2014 6:24 PM

Retired major general gives tips to clergy on veterans' 'moral' injuries

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  • Retired Maj. Gen. James Mukoyama

      Retired Maj. Gen. James Mukoyama

 
 

Retired Army Maj. Gen. James Mukoyama believes the religious community plays an important part in helping veterans cope with emotional battle wounds sustained in war.

He calls these wounds "moral" injuries because he says fighting in war sometimes means you're forced to do things -- like killing -- that violate one's sense of right from wrong.

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So how can the clergy help those veterans who come to them?

Mukoyama and his faith-based nonprofit organization, Military Outreach USA, believe they have the answers in a guide they are releasing Saturday during an event at Trinity Lutheran Church in Roselle.

"For some conditions, therapy is good, but for moral injury, we believe the approach is not a medical doctor with drugs, but rather the love, forgiveness and grace of a moral authority, a God, and the counseling of clergy and the fellowship of a spiritual community wrapping their arms around people and giving them love and hope," he said.

Mukoyama entered the Army in 1965, and rose through the ranks to become the service branch's youngest general in 1987. He was promoted three years later as the Army's youngest major general.

The organization's report will detail steps that not only clergy, but also health care professionals and social workers, can take to help veterans.

The group has identified some 3,000 religious communities in 35 states as "military caring" -- providing spiritual support and practical care to veterans and their families. Mukoyama, a member of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, helped start a military ministry group there.

He says when a soldier returns home, events pushed aside during the heat of battle often resurface in the form of guilt, shame, depression and even suicide. The suicide rate among veterans is 22 per day, according to government statistics -- and Mukoyama believes a major reason are so-called moral injuries.

Oftentimes, he says veterans returning from war will go to their local clergy member before they go to Veterans Affairs, and that's why he believes clergy need the proper tools to be able to help veterans cope.

"The first part of the process is to receive forgiveness and grace," he said. "Then you rebuild the person's sense of self-worth. You give an individual an opportunity to serve others. What better institution that serves others than our churches?"

Following the launch of his organization's report Saturday, Mukoyama is planning free workshops across the Midwest this month for clergy on the topic of moral injury.

Saturday's event at Trinity Lutheran Church, 405 S. Rush St. in Roselle, is scheduled from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and is free and open to the public.

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