The first three Veterans Faith Champions in Texas received their initial training in April 2021. Veterans Faith Champions are volunteers who will act as resource guides to transitioning military and veterans within their faith communities.
“Transition is a critical time. We all want social connectivity, community, and life purpose. You have all of these in the military. When service members leave the military, they look for those same opportunities as veterans,” said John Wilson, Lt. Colonel US Air Force Retired and Texas Veterans Commission (TVC) Veterans Mental Health Department (VMHD) Community and Faith-Based Coordinator, pictured below.
Wilson went on to note that when people do not find these things, to cope, some develop issues such as substance abuse, depression or homelessness.
Wilson noted that working to prevent such issues or help those dealing with them is part of his veteran ethic. “In the service, we all swore an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic, and to bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” said Wilson, likening the lack of connectivity, community and purpose as a domestic enemy.
“If people can find what connects them and gives them purpose, a job, education, enjoying their community, it may help prevent having to deal with future issues like depression.”
Those already dealing with issues can also find assistance from the Veterans Faith Champions and across the state through other VMHD programs like the Military Veteran Peer Network (MVPV).
In addition to being resources for veterans and transitioning military, Veterans Faith Champions help congregations understand veteran issues and culture. They make veterans and members of their community aware of classes available on veterans’ benefits, military culture, meditation, employment, education, behavioral health, and more. In providing all these services, the Veterans Faith Champions coordinate with TVC VMHD, MVPN and their faith community leadership. Faith Community Leaders introduce Veterans Faith Champions to their congregation and make their availability know at services and events.
Veterans Faith Champions are part of VMHD’s recently established Faith and Allegiance Initiative. This initiative seeks to both engage community and faith-based partners and support them in reaching out to current and former service members and their families through the Veterans Faith Champions.
The Faith and Allegiance Initiative was pioneered by Wilson in Oklahoma, as part of its governor’s challenge to prevent suicide. Having returned home to Texas as part of TVC VMHD, Wilson recently participated in the Austin Mayor’s Faith Leaders Event and follow-up focus group sessions in January 2021. After consulting with the faith leaders, Wilson was ready to start the program in Texas.
“We started small intentionally, so we can develop and equip the Veterans Faith Champions effectively,” said Wilson. From this start, he plans to spread the program to other areas. “We look forward to stepping out on this new path.”
Pictured from left are the first Veterans Faith Champions in Texas Sean Bridwell, Tinny Widjaja and Kris Vandenberg.
Find out more about the Veterans Mental Health Department at https://www.tvc.texas.gov/mental-health/ .
Veterans wanting to talk with other veterans about mental well being and community resources can find them by area at https://www.milvetpeer.net/page/custompage_map .