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What is spirituality?

Spirituality can be described as your personal connection with meaning and purpose in life through something greater than yourself. This may include belief in some sort of higher power, or devotion to a set of deeply held personal values. People often express their spirituality through a particular religion or faith — although many people consider themselves spiritual without a formal religious affiliation.

Some Veterans may find that their life experiences strengthen their spirituality or faith. Others may find that their experiences in the military cause them to rethink or question spirituality or religion. If you practice a religion, you may be concerned about losing faith in what you believe. If you don’t, you may struggle with questions about what is significant and worthwhile 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 didn’t 

These kinds of questions are common after a difficult or traumatic experience, such as military combat, natural disasters, or accidents. For many people, thinking about what they believe, and why they believe it, is part of making sense of difficult experiences.

What spirituality-related issues should I keep an eye out for?

While wrestling with these sorts of questions can be difficult, many people find that the process eventually leads to a sense of growth or resolution. For some, though, their experiences leave them with an ongoing sense of unaddressed spiritual injury or suffering.

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, including members of your faith or spiritual community. 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?

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, painting, 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 in your life.

Talking to close friends and loved ones about what you are thinking and feeling may help you, and it allows your friends and family to provide support. In other cases, you may want to speak to someone else who you feel will understand your concerns, such as a spiritual or religious adviser, an educator, or a professional counselor.

Take the next step: Make the connection.

Every day, Veterans who served in the Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard connect with resources, services, and support to address the issues affecting their lives. If spiritual issues are interfering with your health and well-being or getting in the way of your relationships, work, or activities, you may want to reach out for support. Consider connecting with:

  • A spiritual or religious adviser or a chaplain
  • Your 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 to address spiritual issues.

Learn more about what you can do if you are experiencing specific concerns related to spiritual issues, 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. VA chaplains serve Veterans of all spiritual and faith traditions, including those with no religious affiliation.
www.myhealth.va.gov/mhv-portal-web/anonymous.portal?_nfpb=true&_pageLabel=healthyLiving&contentPage=healthy_living/spirituality_intro.htm

AfterDeployment
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.
www.afterdeployment.dcoe.mil/topics-spirituality

Vet Center
If you are a combat Veteran, you can 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. In addition, any Veteran who was sexually traumatized while serving in the military is eligible to receive counseling regardless of gender or era of service.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/vetcenter_flsh.asp

VA Medical Center Facility Locator
Some spirituality issues are associated with health-related conditions that need attention. VA provides world-class health care to eligible Veterans. Most Veterans qualify for cost-free health care services, although some Veterans must pay modest copays for health care or prescriptions. Explore your eligibility for health care using VA's Health Benefits Explorer tool and find out more about the treatment options available to you.
www2.va.gov/directory/guide/home.asp?isflash=1