Chaplains and Religion Substituted for Professional Mental Health Care in the Military

The military's practice of substituting religion for professional mental health care for PTSD and suicide prevention has become increasingly frequent, with alarming reports coming in from active duty troops and veterans.
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The following is a joint letter sent by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) and Veterans for Common Sense (VCS) to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. The military's practice of substituting religion for professional mental health care for PTSD and suicide prevention has become increasingly frequent, with alarming reports coming in to MRFF from active duty troops, and reports coming in to VCS from veterans who were subjected to this practice while on active duty and are now suffering the consequences of not getting the professional help they needed when they needed it.

August 9, 2010

Dear Secretary Gates:

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has learned on numerous occasions over the past several years about blatantly sectarian Christian religious programs and Christian proselytizing in the military. The proselytizing is unconstitutional and we demand you issue an order to stop it now.

Our letter addresses a particularly pernicious subcategory of proselytizing that must also cease immediately. The military often substitutes evangelical chaplains in the place of professional mental health care for service members suffering from mental health conditions, especially post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). These reports have recently become increasingly frequent and alarming.

Among the many types of shocking incidents and illicit and dehumanizing practices reported to MRFF have been the military's teaching of creationism as an actual bona fide means of suicide prevention; the use of a parachurch military ministry's evangelical Christian program to treat PTSD; service members seeking help being sent to and proselytized by chaplains instead of being sent to mental health professionals; articles in official military publications stating that finding Jesus is the only solution to the mental health problems faced by members of our armed forces; mandatory mental health training inside chapels, plus countless "Spiritual Fitness" events and programs being promoted as mental health solutions.

Perhaps the most alarmingly repugnant stories are those coming in from our recent war veterans regarding the widespread practice of "battlefield Christian proselytizing." When, on active duty, our service members sought urgently needed mental health counseling while on the battlefield and with the gun smoke practically still in their faces, they were instead sent to evangelizing chaplains, who are apparently being used with increasing frequency to provide mental health care due to the acute shortage of mental health professionals. Chaplains are not certified, professional mental health experts.

According to the reports of these veterans, the chaplains they were sent to for evaluation and treatment had the unmitigated temerity to urge, as a medicinal cure, a conversion to evangelical Christianity, and sometimes even went as far as disgustingly lacing their "counseling" with the soldiers' need to stay on the battlefield to" kill Muslims for Christ." Even in the best cases, while the chaplains' words of proselytizing may have provided a temporary placebo, allowing these soldiers to return temporarily to combat for the remainder of their deployment, within months of returning home from war, their "temporary religious faith" wore off as their profound mental health symptoms, quite predictably, returned in all their fury. And, again, the shortage of available mental healthcare professionals and lack of treatment exacerbated the service members' psychological trauma.

For many of our veterans, the severe adverse consequences of being subjected to battlefield Christian proselytizing rather than receiving genuine mental health care have been, to just name a few, broken families, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and particularly, even suicide. While religious counseling may be helpful to some service members, and should certainly be available to those who specifically seek religious counseling, the widespread use of evangelizing Christian chaplains as a substitute for qualified mental health professionals is preventing many service members from getting the serious medical treatment that they desperately need and deserve, and is most likely exacerbating the unprecedented, unbridled suicide epidemic. It's just as specious and heinous as having these proselytizing military chaplains substitute for military combat trauma surgeons.

Another alarming matter is that, due to the heavy promotion by the military of sectarian Christian religious "solutions" to mental health problems, non-religious, even moderately religious, service members struggling with mental health issues or contemplating suicide may not seek the help they need because they think they will just get evangelical, fundamentalist Christianity rammed down their throats if they do.

The improper use of Chaplains to proselytize our psychologically traumatized service members seeking mental healthcare is an unconstitutional, unconscionable disgrace and is a clear matter of national security because it fatally undermines unit effectiveness for battle. Thus, this issue must be aggressively addressed immediately by you and top military leaders. No more suffering and no more suicides will be tolerated. Suicide can and should be prevented, but not at the price of unconstitutional battlefield proselytizing by officers or enlisted personnel - which is of no value. We are not requesting, we are now demanding a direct, responsive reply from you within the next 10 business days about your plans to stop unconstitutional proselytizing of traumatized service members.

Given the shamefully rampant suicide rates in the United States Army, it is likely that at least another dozen or so United States active duty service members, not counting veterans, will commit suicide during the aforementioned period in which we have just demanded to be contacted by you.


Michael L. "Mikey" Weinstein

Founder & President

Military Religious Freedom Foundation

Paul Sullivan

Executive Director

Veterans For Common Sense


John M. McHugh - Secretary of the Army

Ray Mabus - Secretary of the Navy

Michael B. Donley - Secretary of the Air Force

Admiral Michael Mullen - Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

General James E. Cartwright - Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff

General George W. Casey, Jr. - Chief of Staff of the United States Army

Admiral Gary Roughead - Chief of Naval Operations

General Norton A. Schwartz - Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force

General James T. Conway - Commandant of the Marine Corps

For specific examples of the types of incidents referred to in this letter, see "Against All Enemies, Foreign and Domestic," the chapter I wrote for the recently released book Attitudes Aren't Free: Thinking Deeply about Diversity in the US Armed Forces, published by Air University Press, the publishing arm of the Air Force's Air University at Maxwell Air Force Base. This chapter provides a comprehensive overview and numerous specific examples of the various issues that MRFF is currently dealing with and has dealt with in the past. The section addressing "spiritual fitness," suicide prevention, etc., begins on page 80 (page 13 of the PDF file).

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