Faith Leader Military Awareness and Support Training: Strengthening the Military Veteran Ecosystem
Clergy and chaplains are now the second-most likely source of referrals to the Cohen Clinic. This statistic reflects a well-documented finding about where people turn for help with concerns about their relationships, emotional health, and practical challenges in life. People trust faith leaders.
In recent years, the Rev. Eric Wester, VA chaplain, retired Army chaplain, and Lutheran minister, steadily increased efforts to provide opportunities for faith leaders to gain information, collaborate, and encourage one another. Wester works with Cohen Clinic at Centerstone Outreach Director De’Andrea Fuller with involvement and support from Operation New Uniform, National POW/MIA Memorial and Museum, The Fire Watch, VA colleagues, and, in 2023, with financial support from the VyStar Foundation. Together, this team invites faith leaders to join either in-person or online for Military Awareness and Support training. This equips faith leaders to be resourceful in the Northeast Florida/Southeast Georgia “military veteran ecosystem.” The latest Fall 2023 program for faith leaders was earlier this month and plans are already being made for the Spring 2024 session. Typically, between 50 to 80 faith leaders participate both in-person and online through Zoom.
A new initiative by Chaplain Wester along with OneJax was recently completed at Baptist Health. A total of 156 chaplains met at the downtown Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center for a day of professional development and networking. This was a welcomed opportunity for renewal for hospital, military, hospice, and other chaplains — given the demands of the pandemic and their responsibilities in addressing death, grief, and the spirit of each one in their care. Plans for a 2024 Chaplains Gathering are underway.
All of these efforts lead to a quiet yet vital pillar of support to military members, veterans, and their families. As so many have realized, resilience in times of trouble and a spiritual center can help guide and sustain us in our journey. We salute Chaplain Wester for his efforts in our community and as part of our Advisory Council.