How to Help Veterans Re-Enter Society

December 2, 2014
Darrell L. Bock and Justin Roberts

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Topic Time Codes

00:14
Roberts discusses how America should welcome its returning soldiers back into society
05:00
Roberts shares his experience of what the chaplaincy has taught him
06:26
Roberts’ plans to film No Greater Love, the sequel to The Hornet’s Nest
11:00
Roberts’ advice for those welcoming home a veteran
12:40
What should pastors and church leaders do to welcome home veterans?
14:50
How to be sensitive to the experiences and stories of veterans.

Transcript

Dr Darrell Bock
So if I were to ask you what would you hope someone who goes to the movie, and this is probably a terrible question to ask someone who does a movie, let them react however they react to whatever it that I do. But what would your hope be if someone goes to see The Hornet’s Nest or watches it on DVD? What do you hope their reaction would be?
Justin Roberts
Honestly, ticker tape parades are a wonderful and beautiful gesture. But the day after the tape has fallen, what’s left? So even after people see the film and they applaud and there’s a beautiful reaction there, what I’m more concerned about is when they come home into their communities, how are they going to connect with their veterans? How are they going to connect with some of these people who have been through some pretty tough things? Are they going to have patience? Are they going to have love? Are they going to step out and really care? I appreciate thank yous and I appreciate hugs. But more than that, it’s just the relationships that I think we’re going to be needing as we move forward. As America’s longest war comes to a close, are the communities going to be responding with relationships and love?
Dr. Darrell Bock
I’m sorry; this may not be fair to ask you this. We’re going to be absorbing back into our society a large amount of veterans. Do you have any idea what that number would be?
Justin Roberts
Yeah. Over the next two years, we’re looking at between 150,000 and 170,000 who are going to be leaving military service and coming back into the communities. We are doing budget cuts. The military is going to be reduced, unless Congress suddenly changes something. That is happening. So we have to begin getting ready for that.

But also, over the past ten years we’ve had people enter the military service and then get out. So there are all of these veterans who are still in our population. And so how do we welcome them home?
Dr. Darrell Bock
So that means being willing to offer them a job. I mean, you’re talking pretty basic stuff, aren’t you?
Justin Roberts
[Laughter] Yeah. It’s the bread and butter of things, I think. These are qualified, sharp individuals who have had their leadership tested to the nth degree. They’re good to go. They’ll accomplish the mission, whatever the mission is. But they have to get plugged back into society.

Dr. Darrell Bock: So the concrete reality is the best way to honor a war veteran in very many ways is to make sure that they are welcomed back in full into society and have a place to land the jobs. I imagine it’s got to be incredibly discouraging to have gone overseas, to have fought for your country, to come home, to look for a job, to not be able to find employment and just sit there and process what it is that you’ve been through without feeling like there’s anything on the other end.
Justin Roberts
Yeah. I know the job market is already hard as it is. So we’re going to be in some – I don’t want to predict difficult times, but that is a hard question to answer. I definitely don’t have the answer on my own. It’s just a conversation we need to begin having across the country. But also I would say something that we can do, a target that we know that we can hit, I honestly believe that our country can be changed with barbeque. I’m from Texas, so barbeque is usually my answer to most problems.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s exactly right.
Justin Roberts
But the simple concept of simply let’s have some get togethers. If it’s not barbeque, it’s fly fishing. It’s hunting. It’s activities.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So including them in your circle and helping them get re-networked and reconnected to the society that they came out of. Although they’re often times leaning in a completely different place than where they left from when they came into the military.
Justin Roberts
I think this is a definite thing churches can do in just opening up their doors and doing events for the veterans in the community. That would be beautiful. I think it’s hard to say, “Hey, we’re going to have a relationship.” That kind of freaks people out. “We’re going to get really close.” But if you say, “Hey, why don’t you come out to a barbeque?” Sometimes that’s the easier invitation to accept than saying, “Hey, why don’t you come to church with us?” Sometimes it has to start with barbeque or a coffee shop or these other middle grounds before we say, “Hey, we got a great service this Sunday, you need to come, too.” Sometimes that’s too much for some people.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So you’ve been in the chaplaincy how long now?
Justin Roberts
For five years.
Dr. Darrell Bock
For five years. And what do you think being in the chaplaincy has taught you as a person? It’s obviously exposed you to things that I’m sure you necessarily didn’t anticipate when you were sitting in class here at Dallas.
Justin Roberts
Yeah. Keep my head down. [Laughter] If you’re low, then you’re probably good. No. Honestly, I don’t think ministry is really that different anywhere you go because in the matter of the context or the difficulties, pursuing God in the midst of it. Making sure that I’m staying connected. Making sure that I’m keeping Him the priority in my life. And that gets hard whenever you are so busy and so distracted by so many different things. So I struggle with that, really trying to keep that number one.

Second, my number one job if I fail at everything else is as long as I really am loving these guys selflessly and putting them before myself, then I’m going to be doing ministry. I’m going to be working on the sermons. I’m going to be doing good counselings. So I think that’s my top two.
Dr. Darrell Bock
What are you working on these days? What’s next for you?
Justin Roberts
So the next is going to be the next film. We’re going to be starting production June 13th and we’re going to be rolling the cameras and running around with the film called No Greater Love, which is the follow-up documentary, which tells my story as a brand new chaplain and what the guys taught me. We will be actually following up with a lot of the guys that I served with here in the States. So I’m going to fly from Germany and do some interviews with them to see how are they coming home. What are they processing? What are they dealing with?
Dr. Darrell Bock
So it’s the other half of the story in very many ways.
Justin Roberts
Yes, sir. And I think it’s timely, too, because this is the stage we are at in our country. So how do we fully come home, not just physically but mentally and spiritually? So I’m going to go on the journey across the country to follow up with them, but also to really explain where I’m at and how I struggle with PTS, my struggles with depression and how I’m trying to pursue, help myself to get through that. It’s not that I was in some sort of miraculous bubble when I was going through that war. I’m affected, too. God let’s me be affected. So it’s my journey as well. We will finish shooting and then we should have the film completed around October, November.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Which will be about the time this will release. Is this the same team that did Hornet’s Nest?
Justin Roberts
Yes, sir. It’s the exact same team.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. So you’ve got the reporter as a part of your team.
Justin Roberts
We’ll have to check with him. He’s probably going to be one of our executive producers, just helping us. But we have an Emmy award winning team. All of these guys are very, very sharp individuals in what they do. So they’re the ones who are going to be helping craft this out. We’ll have a finished product and then 2015 is when we’re really going to be running with it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Interesting. So The Hornet’s Nest is in the theaters now and by the time this releases, it probably will no longer be there but it will be on DVD.
Justin Roberts
DVD and Blu-ray.
Dr. Darrell Bock
That’s right. And as we mentioned, you’re stationed in Germany. How long will you remain in Germany?
Justin Roberts
Until February 2015.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Okay. And everything that you do comes out of that. That’s your base.
Justin Roberts
Yes, sir.
Dr. Darrell Bock
How long have you been there?
Justin Roberts
For two years right now. So in total I’ll have been there for three years, and I’m absolutely loving it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Germany is a great place to live. Like I said, we lived there a year at a time four separate times, and really enjoyed the experience. I won’t ask you how your German is and I won’t ask you which Bundesliga football club you support -
Justin Roberts
[Laughter] My neighbor keeps on getting on to me, too. He’s like, “Where is your German at?” I don’t know. I lost it.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Most Germans speak English so it’s kind of hard to learn German.
Justin Roberts
Yes. It is.
Dr. Darrell Bock
You always ask them do you know English, and the answer is always a little bit. And then their English is impeccable.
Justin Roberts
They’re little bit is a lot.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Exactly. If I knew the little bit of German that they know the little bit of English, we wouldn’t be speaking in English. It’s amazing.

So you’ve got almost another year and a half, basically. Almost two years left.
Justin Roberts
Well, let’s see. Where are we at?
Dr. Darrell Bock
Actually that’s a year left.
Justin Roberts
Yeah. That’s short.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. See, it does go fast.
Justin Roberts
It does.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. Now what do you hope to do when you come back?
Justin Roberts
Well, that’s the thing. It’s either stay in the military or continue to work on film. I’ve loved my time in the military. This has been the most amazing thing I’ve ever been a part of in my life. But we do have some opportunities opening up and I do love working on film. So we’re praying about it, just kind of seeing what direction God leads us in right now. So we do know what projects we want to work on next if that door opens, and so we’re praying it does.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now I’ve indirectly asked you this, but I think I’m going to ask a focus question that does it. So if you were giving advice to someone about how to deal with a veteran who is coming home, basically I think the bottom line of what I’m hearing from you is get to know them and help them become a part of the society that they’re returning to. Is that kind of the key homiletical idea here?
Justin Roberts
I’d almost like to say, without naming the action, I would just say reach out and love, whatever action that looks like. Just to reach out and love. Establish relationships. So I think in the ministry, our job is to care for people, for broken people, and to just sincerely love people. So that doesn’t change anything. Churches are designed for broken people. If it’s a church that’s not filled with broken people, then I’m not sure what’s going on. So that’s what the church is there for, and these ministries.

So we have a specific influx of a particular group, and not all veterans are just falling apart. Most of them are normal people. But they went through some tough stuff and so any kind of outreach just to help connect, love on them, is I think the will of God. It’s just ministry.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Now, that’s generic advice for anybody.
Justin Roberts
It is.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Let me focus the question in a slightly different direction. And that is if you were to give advice to pastors of churches and to other church leaders about what to think about, because they not only have the individual responsibility of these individual relationships but maybe even a little more corporate responsibility. What kind of advice would you give to pastors and church leaders about military who they find walking through their doors?
Justin Roberts
I think one of the big fears that I’ve actually had a lot of personal conversations since I’ve been here in Dallas about is that they say, “I don’t know what it’s like. I didn’t deploy; I’ve never been to war so I’m not really sure how to approach them and I’m not really sure how to talk to them about what they’ve been through.”

And my advice is that you don’t have to be able to relate with everybody. No matter what wounds they have, whatever they’ve been through, you just have to love them. You just have to open up your heart to them and have confidence, not necessarily in yourself but in what God has told you in the Gospel. Every person needs that. And so you’re not unequipped. You’re not. So that’s the one thing I just encourage pastors out there just to simply know that they’re fully equipped for this ministry.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So just because you’ve never been in the military doesn’t mean that you can’t minister to someone who has been in the military, you can’t sit and listen and connect with them and engage them at a personal level and encourage them and help them.
Justin Roberts
Yeah. And that’s the thing. So many people, they don’t know what to say so they pull away and the veteran is off in a corner. That shouldn’t happen. You don’t have to know what to say. Just say hello. “Hey, man, welcome back.” A handshake. “Thank you for your service. You want some barbeque?” That’s all that’s needed. There should be no awkwardness and there should be no hesitation. Just love people.
Dr. Darrell Bock
This is going to sound like an odd question but I think it’s a natural one. How awkward is it for the person coming out of the military to be asked a question like, “What was it like for you” or to let them tell their story. How important is that?
Justin Roberts
I think it kind of depends on the situation. It depends on the person because some of them don’t want to talk about it. There’s some stuff that is hard to talk about without choking up. It’s just like, you know, tell me when your best friend died. Kind of a touchy subject.

And whenever guys have particular awards, always keep in mind that every single award they have, chances are, is from a pretty traumatic situation. So it’s hard to talk about. Also, a lot of those guys who are pinned with medals don’t really like wearing them because they’re going to think about their buddies who had fallen and who died, and they’re going to feel like I wish he had it instead of me. So it’s always painful, it’s a heavy weight. So I think that’s something that should be kind of gauged through the relationship.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Yeah. I suspect that that’s part of what produces the awkwardness is not knowing do I engage this part of this person’s life or do I keep a distance or do I kind of let them set the parameters for how close I let them come, that kind of thing.
Justin Roberts
Yeah. Of course, as the relationship grows, they’ll share stuff as they want to. But it’s also the same thing with the wounded and people who are disabled. Probably not the best idea to start talking about, “Tell me about how this happened” because it could be a traumatic situation and they don’t want to talk about it. There’s tons of stuff going on that we can talk about outside of that.
Dr. Darrell Bock
And the tricky part of this, it strikes me in thinking about it as we talked about it, is the situation of the spouse of the veteran is also in an interesting place because they can almost be double isolated, if I can say it that way. In other words, a person reaches out to the veteran who comes back. They’re the person whose been on the ground and gone through it, and the spouse can almost risk being ignored in that process if you’re not careful.
Justin Roberts
Yeah. And the thing is is those spouses, and I know I’m generalizing but those ladies have made as many sacrifices. They have endured sleepless nights, enduring blackouts when somebody has been wounded in the unit and they don’t know if it’s their husband. We have a lot of Gold Star Wives who are in the congregations and some people might not even know it. Their sacrifices have been heavy and the things that they have had to carry on their shoulders are unknown, unrecognized. Nobody walks up to them and thanks them.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Just to help people, what’s a Gold Star?
Justin Roberts
Gold Stars are people who have lost family members in the war. So spouses and parents and children. They’re scattered throughout congregations and communities. They’re struggling, too. There’s actually a high suicide rate for Gold Stars as well that is not being discussed.
Dr. Darrell Bock
So you’ve talked about this some or alluded to it, and that is, and we’ve alluded to it as well, is the suicide ideation and the pressure on suicides and the fact that many people, when they cope, have trouble, and that there is a suicide problem with returning military, etc. And chaplains are right in the front lines of dealing with that aspect of what goes on. Another element, and this is generic counseling in some ways though, is if you’re aware of someone who is kind of on the edge, if I can say it that way, what advice would you give to the person who knows the person in the military who is struggling with their reentry?
Justin Roberts
It’s easier in the army because we can always say call a chaplain. [Laughter] And that’s job security for us. We stay pretty busy. But once they’re back in the community, there’s not that support system. And so it is hard. I know the VFW and the American Legion have great support systems depending on from community to community. But it’s first connecting, reaching out, assessing the situation. Like what kind of resources are available? Is there a minister or somebody who is willing to engage with them? That’s sometimes needed.

So it really depends on the situation, though, but I think checking in. Sometimes that’s scary. I don’t know what I’m dealing with here with this person who is really tense and really stressing and really seems off. That’s a broken person and we have to check in and do ministry.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Is there a place that the military has for people, say like me who have no military connections whatsoever but I might know someone who is on, let’s say, the edge. Is there a place within the military for them to go or am I left to my own –
Justin Roberts
There are a couple of resources that I do want to point out. There is also Military OneSource, which is an amazing resource that people can call up. What it does is it simply connects you to other resources. So that is always available. They can also connect you to suicide hotlines, if that’s the situation. So those are two things. The greatest resource of all is Google. [Laughter]
Dr. Darrell Bock
You can always find what you need for help.
Justin Roberts
Yeah.
Dr. Darrell Bock
I guess what I was fishing for is do the veterans organizations have a place where you can call or anything like that.
Justin Roberts
Yeah. And it depends on the area, too. I know that the VA is always available and I know that American Legion and VFW, USO, Easter Seals. I mean, there are so many associations out there than can help connect. So whatever the problem is, there are resources out there. It’s just finding it within your local community and helping them plug in. There’s also great organizations that help veterans find jobs, to translate their resume to civilian resumes. So these things are scattered throughout and they’re so numerous. We do have the resources, it’s just connecting is I think the biggest difficultly.
Dr. Darrell Bock
Well, Justin, I want to thank you for coming in and talking about this with us. This has been very, very informative. The closest I’ve ever been to the military in my own experience actually was in Germany when we were in Stuttgart and we went to the International Baptist Church, which is located right next to where a series of army installations were. That congregation was about 30%, 35% military. And you watched them move through. In fact the only time I’ve spoken to a military audience was in Germany, to that group.

And so it’s a mobile, in some senses, disconnected part of our society that tries to reenter that both the leaving and returning are very delicate matters for people. We appreciate both the movie The Hornet’s Nest and you taking the time to talk to us about military chaplaincy and what’s involved, and getting us sensitive to how people who serve in the military, particularly when they’re just back from having served, it’s an important group to keep our eye on and be particularly sensitive to as they seek to reenter life in a more normal context than the military provides for them.
Justin Roberts
If I can, just to encourage the audience, we do have a Facebook page for the next film as well. No Greater Love, the movie. The website is going to be up as well. So if people want to engage with that story, we’re definitely available. And it’s going to be moving.
Dr. Darrell Bock
We appreciate, again, you coming in and we appreciate you joining us on The Table where we discuss issues of God and culture. We look forward to seeing you again.

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