After his second tour, Marty could not shake his feelings of guilt and anger. His spiritual life suffered, and he found himself feeling hostile against the religion he once embraced. But, he reached out to members of his church community, and they helped him find emotional and spiritual support.
Spirituality is your personal connection with meaning and purpose in life through something greater than yourself. This can include belief in a higher power of some type or devotion to a set of deeply held personal values. Often, people express their spirituality through a particular religion or faith, although you don’t have to belong to one to consider yourself spiritual.
Because spirituality is closely linked with your sense of purpose and meaning in life, things that have an impact on what you do and who you are can affect your beliefs. Some Veterans may find their life experiences strengthen their spirituality or faith. For other Veterans, their experiences may cause them to rethink or question spiritual and religious matters. If you practice a religion, you may be concerned about losing faith in what you believe. If you do not practice a religion, you may struggle with questions about meaning and purpose in life.
“I was asking, ‘Why me? Why did you let me live? Is this the plan, because I don’t like it.’”
You may wonder:
- What death and suffering mean in the broader scheme of things
- If there is any meaning or purpose to the things you saw or experienced
- If you are a bad person because of your actions
- Why bad things happened to you or people you care about
- Why you survived when other people did not
These kinds of questions are common after a difficult or traumatic experience. Many people need to think about why and what they believe to help make sense out of what they’ve been through.
What spirituality-related issues should I keep an eye out for?
For most people, wrestling with these sorts of questions is difficult, but eventually leads to answers. However, some people may find their experiences make them feel as if there aren’t any good answers.
In recent years, it has become clearer how spiritual issues relate to health. Individuals and care providers should keep an eye out for spiritual struggles such as:
- Loss of faith
- Difficulty forgiving others or oneself
- Feeling abandoned or punished by God
- Anger toward God
- Guilt or shame
- Grief and loss
- Difficulty merging deeply held values with life experiences
If you are experiencing these kinds of spiritual problems, you may not feel like your old self. You might find that you have stopped doing things you used to enjoy, or perhaps you have isolated yourself from others. If you have struggled with these kinds of spiritual issues or a crisis of faith over a long period of time, you may also be dealing with relationship problems, feelings of depression or anxiety, or other issues that you may want to address.
What can I do about spirituality issues?
“I struggled with my faith, just like a lot of people do. Some of my close Army buddies and my brothers helped me get back in touch with my faith. That really helped me find my peace again and just realize that I can enjoy life and move on.”
Learning to make sense of what happened can rebuild your sense of purpose and meaning. Try to take the time to:
- Talk about your questions and beliefs with someone you trust
- Spend time thinking, expressing, and making sense of the experience, whether through talking, writing, art, music, or other means
- Practice your spirituality or meaningful religious traditions to feel more connected and focused on what is important to you
- Share your thoughts, feelings and questions with counselors or chaplains—they can help you examine your beliefs and find meaning
Talking to close friends and loved ones about what you are thinking and feeling may help you resolve your concerns and allow your friends and family to provide support. In other cases, you may want to speak to someone else that you feel will understand your concerns, such as a clergyperson, educator, or professional counselor.
Take the next step – Make the connection.
Every day, Veterans connect with resources, services, and support that effectively address the issues impacting their lives. If spiritual issues are interfering with your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or daily activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:
- A spiritual or religious advisor or a chaplain
- Your family doctor: Ask if your doctor has experience treating Veterans or can refer you to someone who does
- A mental health professional, such as a therapist
- Your local VA Medical Center or Vet Center: VA specializes in the care and treatment of Veterans and may have VA chaplains on site
Explore these resources for helping Veterans address spiritual issues.
Learn more about the possible associations between spirituality issues and other concerns such as relationship problems, alcohol or drug problems, reckless behavior, posttraumatic stress, and depression.
My HealtheVet Spirituality Center
This online resource provides information on finding spiritual support through a wide variety of services, including VA chaplains, support groups, and education programs.
This website provides resources, information, and self-assessments to help Veterans and active duty military deal with issues unique to them, including understanding spiritual balance.
If you are a combat Veteran or experienced any sexual trauma during your military service, bring your DD214 to your local Vet Center and speak with a counselor or therapist—many of whom are Veterans themselves—for free, without an appointment, and regardless of your enrollment status with VA.
VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Some spirituality issues are related to health conditions that need attention. This link will allow you to search for VA programs located near you. If you are eligible to receive care through the Veterans Health Administration, you can enroll in one of VA’s treatment programs.