Veterans—especially those in rural areas—are receiving added attention through a VA program focused on training clergy and other groups interested in helping Veterans.

More than two dozen trainees met Jan. 30 in Medora, North Dakota, for the Community Clergy Training Program to Support Rural Veterans Mental Health.

VA chaplains use four modules to teach trainees best methods to help Veterans, said VA Chaplain and Army Veteran Joe White.

The program is open to community clergy and anyone interested in helping Veterans, such as local members of Veteran Service Organizations, Caregivers and community-based mental health providers. Religious leaders are often the first people Veterans turn to for help, especially in rural areas, said White.

Practical example

The state chaplains for North Dakota and the American Legion were among those who attended the Jan. 30 event. One person traveled nearly 400 miles for the training.

Army Col. Darcie Handt is executive director for ND Cares, a North Dakota coalition that brings together more than 40 groups. They work to improve collaboration and coordination on behavior health services for service members, Veterans, families and survivors.

Handt said the tools attendees learned will help because of North Dakota’s sparse population. Veterans often travel great distances for any type of care. He said because of this, community partners play a large role in helping Veterans.

Father Brian Gross was one of the attendees. He is the pastor of Epiphany Catholic Church in Watford City, North Dakota. The town of 10,000 draws a large Veteran population because of the oil field work nearby.

“This training helps to identify and recognize what’s going on in the heart and mind of a soldier that’s coming back,” he said. He said the information helps build awareness so when he meets with a Veteran, he will know how to help the person better reintegrate.

Another pastor from a town near Minot Air Force Base said the training will help as she counsels Veterans transitioning.

“I know that I don’t have all the answers, but have a list of resources,” said Pastor SueLynn White from Oak Valley Lutheran Church in Oak Valley, North Dakota. “This will help me walk with them and the (mental health) professional to give another layer of help.”

The program

The training program currently has four modules.

The first module is Military Culture and Wounds of War. In this session, trainees learn about the military culture and injuries Veterans may have, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury or military sexual trauma. Trainees also learn how to assist military personnel and their families with a healthy adjustment to a civilian culture, along with ethical and moral injuries unique to combat Veterans.

Pastoral Care to Veterans and Their Families is the second module. This training discusses the spiritual side of caring for Veterans.

The third module is Mental Health and Referrals. Trainees learn the best ways to support Veterans’ mental health and how to make referrals so Veterans receive follow-up care.

Building Community Partnerships is the fourth module. Since a Veteran may need assistance in multiple areas, trainees learn how to work with partners to establish a network to help.

The program started in 2010. In 2017, the Veterans Experience Office held 13 events for 300 clergy during a pilot phase in the New England area, said Ben Kaler, a Marine Veteran and Veterans Experience Office field consultant. The program now covers all 50 states, with 17 trainers splitting up geographic areas. The vast majority of these trainers are Veterans themselves.

Army Veteran Barry Main, senior chaplain for Messages of Faith Ministry in Nevada, attended two days of training, which he said helped build networks and partnerships.

“It’s going to give those of us who want to help Veterans more tools to use,” the Vietnam Veteran said. “Handling Veterans is a little different. This program went a long way in helping us help others.”

Chaplain Ryan Creelman, who also attended the training with Main, said the program is spurring development of a Veteran care committee to serve Veterans.

Engaging rural communities

Funded by Office of Rural Health, the program tries to reach the nearly five million Veterans who reside in rural communities. Veterans choose rural communities for a variety of reasons: closer proximity to family, friends and community; open space for recreation; more privacy; lower cost of living; or less crowded towns and schools. While Veterans may enjoy the benefits of rural living, they may also experience rural health care challenges that are intensified by combat-related injuries and illnesses.

In rural areas, basic levels of health care or preventative care may not be available to support residents’ long-term health and well-being. Compared to urban areas, rural communities tend to have higher poverty rates, more elderly residents, residents with poorer health, and fewer physician practices, hospitals and other health delivery resources.

Just like any rural resident, it may be difficult for rural Veterans and their caregivers to access health care and other services due to rural delivery challenges, including:

  • Hospital closings due to financial instability
  • Fewer housing, education, employment and transportation options
  • Greater geographic and distance barriers
  • Limited broadband internet
  • Higher uninsured rates
  • Difficulty of safely aging in place in rural America

To find upcoming events, see the National VA Chaplain Center page at

Find a CVEB near you | VA suicide prevention resources

By Air Force Veteran Adam Stump is a member of VA's Digital Media Engagement team.

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Published on Feb. 9, 2020

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  1. John Toomer February 18, 2020 at 3:20 pm

    Is there a “community clergy training program in the eastern region of Virginia; Richmond, Hampton, Norfolk, VA Beach, etc,.?

  2. Sgt. Paul J. Marshall February 18, 2020 at 3:08 pm

    I’m a vet from both the Air Force and Army, since getting I’ve also become an ordained minister. I’m not the clergy for any church at the time, but I do help with a motorcycle ministry with The Salvation Army Motorcycle Ministries. I also suffer with P.T.S.D. and depression. I also volunteer with th V.A. mental health department and the American Foundation For Suicide Prevention.

    I would like additional training in this. I go to the V.A. office in Fargo, ND if that helps any.

  3. J Duane Robinson February 14, 2020 at 1:11 pm

    I am trying to get a new nonprofit (Southern Missouri Emergency Services) to do three things:

    1) Create six (6) disaster battalions in southern Missouri to be available to FEMA and the Missouri State Fire Marshall’s Office: three battalions each…the reserve equipment at each battalion must be left in-state for training and instate disasters;

    2) National fraternity of Special Events Motorcycle Teams, manned by volunteers EMTs and paramedics, et al, that
    assist local communities in a) Missing person(s) searches
    b) Aid in disaster
    c) Security assistance, and
    d) Traffic control at special events

    (Canada already has a medical motorcycle team fraternity available under the name of White Knights)

    3) Bring the Rural Medical Assistant program from India and combine it with the U.S. Paramedic program:
    both programs are six (6) months long and I plan on combining the two programs with intensive hands-on
    practice during the year-long course.

    The Rural Medical program was developed to get the severely -ill and sick into the Indian cities where the doctors are, but with Paramedic training added to the program, a severely ill patient can be stabilized at the scene by a Paramedic…

    I need writers and administrative help to accomplish this….

    Thank you very much!

  4. Randy Cleveland February 14, 2020 at 7:16 am

    I want as much info as possible on this. I am a chaplain now (retired army vet) I volunteer at veterans courts, PD’s I live in West Jordan Utah, let’s get this spread all over this nation, 22 a day us not acceptable!! I’m not advocating religion, I want to help those who need it the most, our nation’s combat veterans, those who’ve survived the worse things possible…PTSD and moral injuries are real and they’re taking our vets faster than combat did!!

  5. baylor eldric maggenti February 13, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    I just wrote about myself. wtf!

    • J Duane Robinson February 14, 2020 at 2:11 pm

      Peer Specialists in some states can specialize in being a court advocate for either homeless or veterans, sir.

  6. baylor eldric maggenti February 13, 2020 at 5:40 pm

    my friend sent me the link. A fellow Vietnam combat veteran didn’t think I, non combat, deserved 100% pension so he turned me in for having a HK94, in Orange County, Cal. I was doing research into my own multiple abuse problems and my research even though clothed got me charged with the crime dejuir of child porn. No paper now but registered for life. You can’t fight it, you just get it over it. I wouldn’t have been charged in LA County. That was 7 years ago. I’ve lost most everything of any value,$. My daughter, who is a national treasure, and I are tight though…she is traveling to London to be in an opera next month. I’ve done something right. You can understand why I could care less about anyone but myself…who else is going to care? Still I’m a life Coach and help when no one else can or will.

    Army medic xray 4yr 4mo, BS/H DESIGN, Hon masters/behavioral science, USCGAux 31YR chaplain, OCSD 3YR PATROL CHAPLAIN, Am RC 5YR INSTRUCTOR, FELON. People with access to the internet have at parties said I look (im)famos. I tell them I use to be George Clooney’s stunt double on ER. What could you possibly say that would interest me in your program?

  7. Linda Banister February 13, 2020 at 2:04 pm

    Please send more information about the Community Clergy training program. We have an estimated 1200 homeless in the Santiam Canyon. Many are veterans living in the Willamette National Forest. We are looking for as many ways as we can to connect these folks with every available service to assist them.

  8. MARK PETERSEN, 1SGT, USA (ret) February 13, 2020 at 1:40 pm

    After over 50 years of associating with military chaplains I can state with absolute honesty that- NO chaplain I have ever known has promoted any particular religious organization. On the contrary it is my understanding that chaplains are trained to avoid proselytizing while performing their duties when in and out of military chapels. Note that most chapels are constructed in such a manner to be used by almost any major religious organization. For those who complain that chaplains working for the military and/or the Dept. of Veteran Affairs in some way violates the US Constitution may contact their US congressional representatives to express this opinion. Do not take away those chaplains serving the military and veterans.

  9. Karl Bruno February 13, 2020 at 1:36 pm

    I am very interested in the Clergy Training Program. Lately, I have been thinking of going to the VA or the counseling center they have for veterans. Today, I am reading about this program. I am a retired Navy Hospital Corpsman, now a chaplain and studying for a Master’s in Biblical Counseling. I will finish in August 2020.
    To those who think this is an infringement of the First Amendment, It is not. The veteran is free to go to a secular VA counselor or a religious VA counselor. If VA can fund one, why not the other too?
    Any training in or near Palm Bay, Florida?

  10. Roy C Harrington February 13, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    Retired soldier and Catholic deacon. Have been working with Warriors suffering from moral injury–hope the course covers that very well. Also want to recommend the REBOOT Combat Recovery Course–12 week course to help heal from PTS, moral injury and MST. Thanks and blessings to all.

  11. ERNEST L. SANDERS February 13, 2020 at 11:49 am


  12. D. Kirk Israel February 13, 2020 at 10:55 am

    Please send me the course schedule and class locations for this training.

    Kirk Israel, Minister
    Green Mountain church of Christ

    Benson, Vermont

  13. Michael Nelson February 13, 2020 at 9:45 am

    As a tax payer, medically retired Marine Officer, and 100% disabled veteran of 4 combat tours served in the infantry, it disturbs me to see tax dollars going to indoctrinating vets into religion. I also suspect that this program violates the Constitutional separation of church and state. If veterans want to engage in religion, they can try any of the 300,000+ churches in the country that are essentially free. We absolutely do not need a tax-funded, government program to proselytize to and indoctrinate vulnerable people who have endured hardship serving their country. I’m going to reach out to the Freedom From Religion Foundation and let them know about this program because I do not believe that this is a legal or ethical use of tax-payer funds. Just from reading the article, it’s clear the this money could be going to other places to make an improvement for veterans.

    • Todd February 13, 2020 at 1:41 pm

      You think you really found some loophole to get rid of something that offends you? Come on now. Do you really think this program was setup to directly violate the constitution as opposed to providing further help to vets in rural areas? If so I pity you.

      • Michael Nelson February 13, 2020 at 9:04 pm

        No, I think it was started by people who want to “help” by pushing their religion on others; probably someone like you. Chances are they are ignorant of the fact that it violates the Constitution. This kind of thing happens all the time and that’s why there are organizations like the FFRF to help remind them. Btw, if you think the 1st Amendment is a “loophole”, it’s you who deserves pity.

        • Wayne Harvey Aaland February 14, 2020 at 10:54 am

          Michael – no offense meant here, reread the 1st Amendment, and the history behind it. It was written because of governments interfering in religious practice, not the other way around. It is designed to protect citizens rights to worship as they choose – which includes your beliefs. Those rights to worship include believers of all sorts and even unbelievers freedoms to practice and speak their minds as you have done here – without being concerned that someone will get angry and send the authorities after them. Thanks for speaking you mind, I’m glad you are comfortable to do so. Now let’s do what we each can to support those all over our beautiful country who are struggling – some of us in God’s name and others to the best of their abilities. Thanks

  14. john goodman February 13, 2020 at 9:08 am

    Do you have any clergy classes in the Houston area?

  15. Ronald E. Knause February 13, 2020 at 8:54 am

    I have BA in Christian Studies with a minor in Christian Counseling. Please send me more information on this program. I am a veteran also.

  16. Edward Hatcher February 13, 2020 at 4:38 am

    I’m a Army veteran who is interested in clergy training. My name is Edward Hatcher and would like to find information on how to enter clergy training.

  17. rmartin February 13, 2020 at 12:27 am

    No thanks . PTSD is a spiritual, physical and mental wound . . in addition to scaring from a adrenalin burn . . .

    • Ken McKenzie February 13, 2020 at 10:43 am

      If you have your VA college benefits, you can take a degree program in Christian Studies or Theology. That’s the path I took. Important to have the educational background in the Bible. It’s a demanding but enjoyable experience. I went to Howard Payne University, they had a local campus but also offer online and they are a Yellow Ribbon school, so your VA will cover it.


  18. Paul Sims February 12, 2020 at 11:51 pm

    I am a Viet-Nam Veteran, having served in1970 as a medic and now have a Ma.Of Religious Studies with Pastoral and Church care and have served for the past 13 years as Senior Pastor at my Church, in rural Ala., would love to volunteer my extra time to helping PTSD Brothers and Sisters.

  19. Valerie Dugger February 12, 2020 at 11:17 pm

    I live I senior housing where a few other veterans reside also. About a month ago I recognized a look of despair on a residents face, I spoke with him in a short 3-5 minutes time and found out he was a veteran, and in deed was in despair. I have always lived by the belief that if you have at least met a person, you have established a relationship at lets you be able to respond to them in time of need. I recognized that veteran needed help. I asked him to call the hotline for help. A few days later, I asked about him as a followup and found out he had committed suicide. I feel like I could have done more but was caught up in my own day to day activities. I am confronted with fact that I saw that he was crying for help, he looked weary and distracted. Even though I am not a Pastor I am a believer. I would like volunteer for clergy training.

  20. Mike Lameyer February 12, 2020 at 10:58 pm

    i am a USMC Combat Veteran and now a Chaplain. Please provide detailed instructions for my participation in this program.

    Mike Lameyer

  21. Alfred M. McGowen February 12, 2020 at 9:46 pm

    Grateful to see VA is reaching out to Clergy. As a retired VA Mental Health Chaplain, Retired Air Force Chaplain and Retired UMC Clergy, it is a welcome outreach that is long over due.

    It is not hard to find young people returning from their AORs, who can use appropriate Pastoral Care and Counseling.

    Al McGowen
    Lakeland Florida

  22. John Lindley Haverstock, USN (4 years only) February 12, 2020 at 9:45 pm

    My return to home (I live in my hometown) had a powerful spiritual component. I couldn’t go back to the church that sent me off to die in Vietnam. So I stayed away, isolated myself, at my own peril. I discovered William Mahedy’s book, Out of the Knight” the spiritual journey of the Vietnam Vet and Elie Wesell,s “Knight” and Robert McAfee Brown’s book about his writing “Message to All Humanity” and divoured them several times. I was still isolated but found some that knew and spoke the truth of the evil of war. I felt marginally less alone even with the onset of symptoms of PTSD. I have had help off and on for the last 50 years, have survived a second divorce since 1973, some major depression and now would like to tell my story and hear other Vet’s stories. I am back in church now and I teach Family to Family for NAMINC and facilitate a support group in our affiliate. I’m learning to integrate scripture and Methodist doctrine with my life experience and BS in psychology ( 55 years ago). I’m ready too speak my truth in hopes it can he helpful to other men and women in their journey. I wrote a service I gave to my Unitarian Universalist Fellowship on Veterans Day several years ago. I can share if that will serve and listen quietly as well .

  23. bob widmann February 12, 2020 at 9:38 pm

    Any upcoming trainings available on the west side soon?
    I pastor a church in Sunnyside, Washington and also serve as chaplain for our Police Department.

    Bob Widmann

  24. Fitzgerald Robinson February 12, 2020 at 8:59 pm

    Greetings today thanks for Veterans Affairs Excellent resources and support Services including making easy to search many options

  25. Chuck Collazzi February 12, 2020 at 8:44 pm

    This looks like an endorsement of religion. That is a violation of the 1st Amendment. Why is the government promoting religion?

    • Veteran Advocate February 13, 2020 at 9:37 am

      Chuck, which Religion is it endorsing? The Establishment Clause is just that ESTABLISH, people are free to Worship or Not to Worship at will. Explain to us all where the endorsement comes in.

    • Raymond Herr February 13, 2020 at 11:30 am

      Every town, or at least nearly every town, has a Church. Not many towns have trained mental health practitioners. Part of the role of the clergy is to reach out and care for the community, so this is one way of trying to reach out into the most remote locations where access to mental health practitioners is lacking.

  26. Patrick Murguia February 12, 2020 at 8:37 pm

    Is there a “community clergy training program” in Albuquerque NM?

  27. Terrance Rolinger February 12, 2020 at 8:33 pm

    Don’t send me clergy. Provide me with health care professionals or help me get to them.
    Last thing I want when I’m in need of physical or mental health assistance is some meddling preacher.

    • Raymond Herr February 13, 2020 at 11:26 am

      How would a genuinely caring preacher be meddling?

Comments are closed.

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