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VA chaplains honored at national convocation

 


VA chaplains honored at national convocation

June 15, 2005

By Kathy L. Gilbert*

A United Methodist pastor has received the highest award given to a chaplain working in veterans affairs centers in the United States.

The Rev. Thomas Joseph (Joe) Lusk of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Augusta, Ga., received the Secretary’s Award of Excellence in Chaplaincy May 25 during the National Leadership Convocation sponsored by the National Chaplain Center in Hampton, Va.
 
Three other United Methodist VA chaplains also were singled out for awards for programs they have initiated.

There are 170 VA centers in the United States. The United Methodist Church has 62 endorsed chaplains working in this specialized ministry. Each year, chaplains are chosen for the Secretary’s Award of Excellence and “best practices” awards are handed out to chaplains whose work has been shown to improve patient care.

Lusk is a full-time supervisory chaplain and has been at the Augusta, Ga., center for 16 and a half years. Before becoming a VA chaplain, he served 20 years as an Army Reserve chaplain.

“I received this award knowing we (VA chaplains) all work together and need each other,” Lusk said. He was nominated by his medical center and “felt honored and humbled” by the appreciation he has received from his colleagues.

“We are entrusted with hospital ministry to a specialized population of veterans--veterans of all ages and who have come to us from many different backgrounds,” he explained. “It is a varied ministry. Even though I am a Christian minister, I make an honest attempt to provide ministry to people of many different faith backgrounds.

“First and foremost I appreciate the opportunity to be a minister and chaplain in this setting to carry out my ordination as a United Methodist minister.”

Coffee with the chaplain

The Rev. Delbert W. Hansen, chaplain at VA Medical Center in Cheyenne, Wyo., received an award for his program “Coffee with the Chaplain: An Alternative Spiritual Experience.”

Hansen says most of the patients at this extended care facility are World War II veterans.  “Our oldest patient was 104 and he would not miss,” he said. “He would not go to chapel but he would not miss coffee time.”

“Coffee with the Chaplain” is held every Tuesday. “Patients love it. To put it bluntly, they schedule other things around it. Even patients who have been discharged schedule their follow-up appointments on Tuesday so they can come.”

Hansen is pastor of two churches and is also on call for a nearby hospital.

“It has been a really fun thing, enjoyable, rewarding,” he said. “We play old hymns, from the Blackwood Brothers and Johnny Cash, Andy Griffith, Jim Nabors--they love Jim Nabors.”

At one point, there was talk of cutting the program since it is not a federally mandated program, sparking “a bit of an uprising with the patients,” Hansen noted.

Entering its third year, “Coffee with the Chaplain” includes coffee, a Bible reading, music and group discussion, ending with prayer.

Alternatives to pain management

The Rev. Terry Sparks, a chaplain at the Complementary Medicine Pain Clinic, part of the VA system in Amarillo, Texas, was honored for her program that uses healing touch, guided imagery, emotional freedom techniques and inner-sound tuning forks.

She helps patients who have run out of options with Western medicine, patients who don’t want to take pain pills or patients who cannot take narcotics because of past substance abuse problems.

As a certified healing touch practitioner, Sparks said, “it is not that different from the laying on hands healing you find in the Bible.

“I really see it as a physical form of prayer, that is what it feels like to me,” she said. “You are interceding for the person while you are doing this.”

She has been a chaplain at the Amarillo clinic for eight years and works with veterans.  “A lot of our patients are beat up, have been beat up for years,” she explained. “About half have post traumatic stress disorder or suffer from flashbacks of some version of it.”

Labyrinth walk and stress management

The Rev. Ted Bleck-Doran received two best practices awards for work he is doing at the Canandaigua VA Hospital in New York.
He has developed a four-week beginning class on stress management that grew out of a need to address stress among members of the staff. He also created a Labyrinth walk that has become a permanent part of the hospital.

“Both are significant in that they move the provision of spiritual and pastoral care into the area of integrated and complementary modalities,” he said. “We integrate with Western medicine to achieve a particularly goal or end.”

Bleck-Doran’s stress management course uses four methods of Eastern and Judeo-Christian meditation methods. The courses are held once a week for four weeks and participants are taught Third Eye meditation from the Hindu tradition; Gap method from the Buddhist tradition; and Meditation on Light and Art from Christian traditions.

Spin-offs from the course have been used on patients with substance abuse and in homeless programs. An intermediate 4-week course is also being developed.

The labyrinth walk came out of a one-day workshop. “We encourage employees to use the labyrinth walk in conjunction with meditation and stress management,” he said. “It has been a part of our culture here at Canandaigua for about 2 1/2 years.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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