"Anybody who puts a foot in the dirt of a combat zone comes home with challenges," said John Oliver, chief chaplain and clinical pastoral education supervisor for the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
But soldiers aren't necessarily sharing these challenges with the medical community designed to support them, sometimes because of the persistent stigma of seeking professional help.
And they aren't always coming to their friends and families, whom they often try to shield from the horrors they've witnessed or even perpetrated and the problems they face upon return.
Where they are laying their burdens down is the church.
"They come to pastors at a rate of five times more often than they go to all mental health care providers combined," Oliver
spoke at the Marion VA last month to a dozen regional pastors about the complexities of current conflicts, which he
believes are more psychologically and spiritually challenging than past wars.
One difference is that this is the longest war the United States has fought with an all-volunteer force.
"We have to recognize that this generation of warrior is being asked to do things no other generation of warrior has ever been asked to do," Oliver
"Soldiers are coming home and going back three and four times.
It's such a different context.
Operating full-time at the top of the human stress threshold actually alters brain chemistry over time, Oliver
The teams should include local agencies such as the Marion VA or others that can provide professional help when needed, Oliver
Members of the team help soldiers and their families in small, concrete ways, such as making a repair call for a stateside spouse suddenly juggling household responsibilities alone.
"Remember that the little things count," said Oliver
, noting that churches are most helpful by just being there for a soldier.
used for an example a support team that was bringing Christmas gifts to their adopted soldier when they learned he'd just called the suicide hotline.
They believe they saved his
life that day by being in the right place at the right time.
Instead of recommending a call to a professional, Oliver
suggested making calls with the individual and getting to know a few people in the care community, such as Marion VA staff, to establish personal relationships for referrals.
"And they need your help," Oliver