Community Clergy Training to Support Rural Veterans Mental Health
- Need: To educate rural clergy and chaplains about the ways they can help improve veterans' access to physical or mental healthcare by referring them to available resources.
- Intervention: Trained VA Chaplains and U.S. Army Reserve Chaplains provide free interactive training sessions to rural community clergy partners.
- Results: Since 2010, more than 4,000 clergy members, chaplains, behavioral health professionals, and others supporting rural veterans have participated in a Community Clergy Training Program (CCTP) event.
Out of approximately 20 million veterans in the United States, 4.7 million are rural residents. Rural communities have limited access to physical and behavioral health services, and veterans may need to travel a great distance for care.
According to a September 2013 Journal of Religion and Health article, a study of veterans with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) found that 47% were open to help from clergy and 12% had sought clergy assistance. Clergy can serve as partners in assisting veterans with reintegration into civilian life and leading the community in reducing the stigma associated with accessing mental healthcare.
In 2009, the Veterans Health Administration (VHA) Office of Rural Health (ORH) funded the original Rural Clergy Training Project to deliver one-day workshops to community clergy and chaplains. From 2009 to 2012, workshops took place in Alabama, Kentucky, North Carolina, North Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.
In 2013, these events expanded into Arkansas, Minnesota, Missouri, and Oklahoma, and workshops in Minnesota and Missouri were conducted in partnership with the Army National Guard. To expand the workshop's reach to clergy in other rural areas, the workshop held at the Jefferson Barracks Armory was broadcast via televideo to National Guard armories in Poplar Bluff and Mexico, Missouri.
In 2016, the Rural Clergy Training Project became an ORH Promising Practice and evolved into the enterprise-wide Community Clergy Training Program to Support Rural Veterans Mental Health (CCTP). The CCTP offers free interactive training sessions to educate rural clergy and chaplains about the unique health issues and readjustment difficulties common to veterans.
In 2014, the original workshop curriculum was refined and broadcast in four live sessions through the VA eHealth University (My VeHU). Video recordings of the My VeHU modules are woven through facilitated group discussions to support learning, interaction, and community relationship building.
The goal of the CCTP is to provide rural clergy with specific skills in supporting veterans and their families and to better equip clergy with the resources and information necessary for referring veterans in need of physical or mental healthcare to VA and community facilities.
In 2015, another ORH-funded clergy-related initiative was incorporated into the CCTP. The VA/Clergy Partnership for Rural Veterans (VCP) shares the CCTP mission to reach rural veterans and improve access to care through communities and clergy. The VCP does this primarily through the establishment of self-led Community Action Boards (CABs) that provide ongoing support and referrals for rural veterans and their families. VCP is now an ongoing part of the CCTP, and the establishment of CABs supports long-term sustainment of program goals.
The CCTP offers multiple modules that cover a variety of topics related to veteran reintegration. The first two interactive sessions address conflicts between military and civilian culture and the challenges of readjusting to civilian life, common combat and military service-related health concerns, and pastoral care with veterans and their families. The second two sessions focus on working with and referring to VA and community mental healthcare providers and building a network of community support for veterans, service members, and military families.
The interactive viewing events are free for rural community clergy partners and are designed to achieve the following:
- Improve clergy understanding of veteran and military culture
- Educate on the common physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual issues that veterans deal with after returning from war zones
- Increase the knowledge base on common symptoms and issues with moral injury, PTSD, and military sexual trauma
- Provide awareness for clergy to make referrals, not diagnoses
- Create a referral process to assist veterans in accessing healthcare and the VA and community resources available to them
- Provide clergy with direct contact to VA Chaplains and mental health providers
- Provide support that would additionally serve the needs of veteran families
- Help veterans readjust and reintegrate with their families and communities
More information about the CCTP can be found in The Clergy Connection, a newsletter with more than 2,700 subscribers. Anyone can subscribe to the CCTP mailing list to receive the newsletter and CCTP webinar announcements.
Twenty-eight VA Chaplains are now able to facilitate CCTP events with community clergy across the United States, including Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, and American Samoa.
In 2017, 40 VA Chaplains and 25 Army Reserve Chaplains completed the CCTP Train-the-Facilitator session and are working with VA Chaplain Facilitators to partner with community clergy and local VA facilities to plan, promote, and deliver CCTP training events in rural locations.
Findings from the 2012-2014 workshops:
- Participants reported high levels of satisfaction with the training, giving most training components an 87.6%-99.5% rating.
- Satisfaction with the referral training was reported at 96.6%, and actual referrals increased by 71% (1-year follow-up data).
- Referrals to community health providers increased by 242% (1-year follow-up data).
- There were increases in:
- Number of community clergy engaged in community veteran-related ministries
- Satisfaction with VA services
Overall, rural community clergy reported an improved understanding of veteran issues and development of veteran-focused ministries. In addition, there have been increases in efforts to reduce mental health stigma and increases in veteran referrals to VA and community-based healthcare.
The Train-the-Facilitator session provides trainees with a more in-depth look at the CCTP and the importance of connecting with community clergy to improve rural veterans' access to physical, mental, and spiritual healthcare and support.
During a Train-the-Facilitator session, participants engage in a simulated CCTP community training event, role-play as a training participant, and practice facilitating discussion. Trainees utilize the CCTP Facilitators' Training Guide and Toolkit to learn a simple step-by-step process to work with community clergy partners to plan and implement CCTP training events. The guide also includes a Resource DVD of electronic planning materials such as checklists and templates.
Contact InformationKristin Pettey, Program Manager
VHA Office of Rural Health
Community and faith-based initiatives
November 6, 2013
Date updated or reviewed
May 30, 2019
Please contact the models and innovations contact directly for the most complete and current information about this program. Summaries of models and innovations are provided by RHIhub for your convenience. The programs described are not endorsed by RHIhub or by the Federal Office of Rural Health Policy. Each rural community should consider whether a particular project or approach is a good match for their community’s needs and capacity. While it is sometimes possible to adapt program components to match your resources, keep in mind that changes to the program design may impact results.