Spiritual distress of military veterans at the end of life

UMMS Affiliation

Department of Quantitative Health Sciences

Publication Date


Document Type



Health Services Research | Mental and Social Health | Psychiatry and Psychology | Psychology | Religion


OBJECTIVE: Although combat experiences can have a profound impact on individuals' spirituality, there is a dearth of research in this area. Our recent study indicates that one unique spiritual need of veterans who are at the end of life is to resolve distress caused by combat-related events that conflict with their personal beliefs. This study sought to gain an understanding of chaplains' perspectives on this type of spiritual need, as well as the spiritual care that chaplains provide to help veterans ease this distress.

METHOD: We individually interviewed five chaplains who have provided spiritual care to veterans at the end of life in a Veterans Administration hospital. The interviews were recorded, transcribed, and analyzed based on "grounded theory."

RESULTS: Chaplains reported that they frequently encounter veterans at the end of life who are still suffering from thoughts or images of events that occurred during their military career. Although some veterans are hesitant to discuss their experiences, chaplains reported that they have had some success with helping the veterans to open up. Additionally, chaplains reported using both religious (e.g., confessing sins) and nonreligious approaches (e.g., recording military experience) to help veterans to heal.

SIGNIFICANCE OF RESULTS: Our pilot study provides some insight into the spiritual distress that many military veterans may be experiencing, as well as methods that a chaplain can employ to help these veterans. Further studies are needed to confirm our findings and to examine the value of integrating the chaplain service into mental health care for veterans.


End of life, Religion, Spiritual distress, Spirituality, Veterans, War

DOI of Published Version



Palliat Support Care. 2015 Jun;13(3):635-9. doi: 10.1017/S1478951514000273. Epub 2014 Apr 28. Link to article on publisher's site

Journal/Book/Conference Title

Palliative and supportive care

PubMed ID


Related Resources

Link to Article in PubMed