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College hosts training to help clergy help veterans better

09.27.17
By: Mark Tarnacki
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The group photo above the headline shows clergy and others who attended Tuesday's training on helping veterans. Several were from the campus Edmundites or Campus Ministry office. (photo by Laurie Sabens).

In keeping with its longstanding commitment to military veterans, Saint Michael’s College hosted the first of three statewide Vermont trainings for community clergy who want to support rural veterans.

The daylong program on Tuesday, September 26, titled “Recognizing the Challenges of Reintegration and Building a Pathway to Care and Resources,” also was to be offered later in the week at other Vermont sites: Bethany United Church of Christ in Randolph on Wednesday and St. Michael’s Episcopal Church in Brattleboro on Thursday. All three sessions are a collaboration among the White River Junction Veterans Administration (VA) Medical Centers, VA Veterans Experience Office, the National VA Chaplain Center, and the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Office of Rural Health (ORH).

Organizer Ben Kaler, who is stationed in New Hampshire, works for the VA Veterans Experience Office in New England. He and several partnering groups trained New Hampshire clergy in July and will cover Massachusetts in November. Beginning last spring, Kaler and Ed Drury from Genesis Behavioral Health in New Hampshire partnered with the local VHA medical facilities, VA Chaplains, VA Suicide Prevention coordinators and CCTP program developers from the VHA Office of Rural Health to bring this VA program to New England.

Kaler said that working with the community clergy is an opportunity to provide training on military culture and veteran specific challenges that may arise when veterans return home.

“Many veterans are doing great and reintegration has been an easy transition, but when questions come up and challenges present themselves, the clergy are an important resource and outlet to those veterans,” he said. “This training has been a great networking event, reinforced dialogue, and provided tools and resources from the VA, State, and community to support the clergy when working with veterans and their families. It has been a great turnout this week and partners like Saint Michael's College have made this possible."

Saint Michael’s alumnus Greg Zerega ’99 introduced Kaler to Fr. Brian Cummings, SSE, ’86, director of Edmundite Campus Ministry, which led to the College hosting a training session. “Greg and my son are friends and play sports together in Amherst, NH,” Kaler explained.

Ken O’Connell, coordinator of Military Community Services at Saint Michael’s, said that by hosting this event, the College “shows our dedication to addressing another side of what makes a successful Student Veteran and Veteran in our community. Our Office of Military Community Services has connected with many community partners in the form of educational outreach and supports, as well as helping create connections to the VA for those in need of assistance we do not provide.”

“The broader we can cast our net the greater our chances of making that connection with a veteran and their family,” O’Connell said. “Finding a common ground is where we can begin the conversation, and for many, that may be through fly-fishing, outdoor sports and activities, or, in this case, speaking with that member of the church community who may address their needs at that time. We may have compassion and want to help a veteran and think we’re doing the right thing, and trainings like this are adding tools to the toolbox when addressing the specific needs of this community.”

Fr. Brian Cummings ’86, SSE, director of Edmundite Campus Ministry, said unique circumstances and situations often arise for veterans returning from a deployment. “The training program was well designed to help ministers of all faiths respond to the needs of our veterans as they transition to being home. We are grateful for the service veterans give to our country and it is the least we can do for them,” he said.

Training topics at the sessions included: • Military culture and the wounds of war; • Potential roles of clergy while assisting with Veteran care; • VA Suicide Prevention – “SAVE” training; • Building Community Partnerships.

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