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Training sensitizes clergy and laity to veterans’ needs

Mike Ogle
Mike Ogle

Considering spirituality and community support key to healing, Mike Ogle at the Spokane Vet Center is networking with Catholic Charities of Spokane and Lutheran Community Services Northwest to offer a Clergy Workshop.

The four-hour workshop from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., Wednesday, May 20, at St. Anne’s Children and Family Center, 25 W. 5th Ave. will train clergy and pastoral staff to offer understanding to returning service personnel and their families as they deal with Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) following service in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Clergy and pastoral staff are in unique positions to assist returning service men and women and their families as they struggle to re-adjust to life at home,” said Mike.  “Churches can help people deal with internal wounds.”

Often, he said, clergy are the only people veterans may trust to listen to their problems in confidentiality, because military chaplains are the only ones in the military who keep confidentiality.

The event will inform clergy and pastoral caregivers about the Vet Center, and help them recognize symptoms and know when it’s appropriate for them to counsel and when it’s appropriate to refer.

By educating pastors on post-war trauma and stress, Mike hopes to help families and vets with readjustment. 

At home, some experience nightmares and withdraw, which Mike said is a normal result of combat exposure.  They also have to change driving habits from how they learned to drive in combat zones.

“After going through the trauma of combat, people need support from their families and communities.  They need to know people understand what they have gone through.  They need relationships with people who will encourage them to seek help when they cannot sleep at night, lose interest in hobbies or become irritable,” he said.  “Those suffering from post-traumatic stress often isolate themselves, as many Vietnam vets did when they settled in the hills of Northeast Washington.”

Mike said friends, family and people in the faith community need to be aware, so they don’t say things that further isolate people.

You don’t ask vets, ‘Did you kill anyone?’ because that may make them feel judged and put them back in their trauma,” he said.  “Many suffer survival guilt, because they lived and friends died.  That guilt makes them think they can’t go back to church.

“Their emotions can be debilitating, interfering with their ability to keep jobs and building irritability that breaks down marital and family relationships,” he said.  “If they are irritable, spouses feel uncomfortable inviting friends to visit, so they, too, become isolated.  Sometimes the irritability leads to verbal abuse.”

“PTS does not go away.  A vet is often in survival mode the rest of his or her life.  We offer skills to help them cope,” he said.  “They are normal people, put in abnormal situations, suffering, and coming back changed. 

They react to normal circumstances in different ways—fearing death is imminent, fearing being in crowds, or drinking energy drinks that put them into hyper-vigilence.  They have difficulty sleeping, but 70 percent of their problems go away if they have help going to sleep,” Mike said.

Social workers at the Vets Center use therapy tailored to the individual, because each reacts differently.  Some—men as well as women—were raped or harassed and return with PTS from the sexual trauma, he said.

For families, Mike said the center offers three-day classes to help people process their grief. It also offers family therapy to help marital relations and help spouses and children understand.

Mike served in the Air Force for 25 years, retiring four years ago.  He served eight years in war areas, ranging from Grenada to Iraq.  He has worked at the Spokane Vet Center, at 100 N. Mullan Rd., for three years. 

Mike, who grew up in Colville and Spokane, is a benefit expert and educator.  In addition to educating vets and their families, he seeks to educate the community through organizing events

Now attending St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, he knows how faith has made a difference for him as he has readjusted.  The church provides a support network.  He has found faith to enhance his healing, especially through understanding forgiveness.

Vets need to know that even though they may have killed, they are forgiven, Mike said.  Guilt can keep them away from churches, which can be resources for them.

Disabled from injuries to his back from years of hard landings in aircraft, he earns enough that he does not have to work, but he does this work because he has a passion to help other vets.

The Spokane Vets Center, formerly the Vietnam Veterans Center, began in 1979 for peer mentors to help Vietnam vets not helped by the Veterans’ Administration.

For information, call 444-8387 or email