Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The military said I was spiritually unfit...

Sean Faircloth speaks to Soldiers about the military's Spiritual Fitness Test...

As a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan, I came home from the latter with the signature injuries of these conflicts: traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  Now, TBI is a purely physical problem.  I had brain scans, optometry therapy, physical therapy, and other medical interventions to help me overcome the physical damage from the IED which exploded underneath my vehicle in October of 2009.  PTSD is a different kind of beast, though, and calls for a multi-disciplinary approach. 

When the Army placed me into a Warrior Transition Battalion (WTB) to address my health care needs and figure out what to do with me administratively, they began a long, rather one-sided conversation during which I was told, time and again, that my spiritual goals were insufficient, my "spiritual domain" poorly defined, and that if I needed help there was a chaplain at the ready for any counseling needs I had.  During my time in the WTB I was placed under the supervision of a platoon sergeant who told me I needed to pray, read the Bible, and accept Jesus as my savior, and I was constantly being reminded that "spiritual fitness" was an important part of recovery.  The Army has really bought into that idea that spirituality is an important element in PTSD treatment.  With thousands of new cases presenting every new deployment rotation, that's going to be a lot of time spent toward checking up on injured Soldiers' religious pursuits. 

My actual medical care was less than stellar during my time at the WTB.  I had no less than six doctors in just over a year, and while I'd rather keep the details to myself, let's just say the care was less than consistent.  When I think about the millions the military spent on programs to assess Soldiers' spiritual fitness, I can't help but think that money couldn't have been better spent.  On September 25, I was medically retired from the Army.  I am happy to report that the VA Medical Center doesn't give a rip whether or not I'm spiritually fit.

What the Army never got was that if they fostered a climate where Soldiers of any faith or no faith could use Army facilities to hold meetings and gather, they could give Soldiers everything any study ever showed was valuable in PTSD recovery (social aspects, mostly) without forcing them to choose a religion.  Instead, the Army has a list of approved religions, a chaplaincy trained to minister to adherents to those approved religions, and absolutely no resources for nonfaith populations.  A typical military solution, the one-size-fits-all approach is counterproductive to a minority of Soldiers.  I was in the minority.  And, boy, did I know it. 

I'm trying to end on a positive note, and it's tough.  On balance, I'm better off than I was a few years ago.  I'm definitely getting better medical care now that I'm out of the Army's system, thanks largely I think to reforms within the VA.  What's the atheist perspective here?  Just, I think, that we should be mindful of the increased focus the federal government is placing on religion as it treats our nation's wounded.  PTSD is a mental illness, and most patients can live a full life with the recommended treatments.  Adding religion under the guise of spirituality to the mix just complicates the issue, and ought to be illegal under the First Amendment.  The military said I wasn't spiritually fit.  I say I don't need to be, and it was never any of their damned business, anyway.

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