Effort provides spiritual and resource help to female veterans
LA VERNE, Calif. — Many veterans are “broken” when they return from war zones and military duty.
Transitioning from military to civilian life can be difficult for men who’ve served. It can be even more difficult for females.
The Rev. Sally Welch of La Verne, co-chair with the Rev. Albert Cohen of the Southern California Ecumenical Council’s task force for women veterans, is a woman on a spiritual mission. She wants to connect female veterans with services and resources that help them and their families.
“We need to find them and get them to gatherings where there are medical, mental health, career counseling and ‘soul’ care available,” said Welch, a Claremont School of Theology graduate and ordained minister in Christian Church, Disciples of Christ.
She serves as a ministerial guest at Southland churches of different denominations, including Faith Lutheran Church in San Dimas where her husband, the Rev. David Berkedal, is pastor.
Her compulsion to help veterans is grounded in familial love. First for her father, Claude Welch, whose health prevented him from enlisting in the military during World War II. But there was nothing wrong with his heart and he and his wife, Mary Eleanor, devoted the war years to helping military families. Her parents connected them with community contacts and programs that helped sustain them while husbands and fathers battled tyranny and genocide.
The second inspiration for her empathy with veterans is her husband who served in the Marines. Cohen added another dimension to her desire to help veterans. A Naval Academy graduate who went to the military college with Jimmy Carter before Carter became president of the United States, had been doing volunteer work for veterans for more than 20 years.
When the council received a grant from the Evangelical Luteran Church in American’s Southwest California Synod, he used the $1,500 award to get the task force for women veterans off the ground.
And he called Welch to help him spread the word, make community contacts, help find female vets and seek partners to augment available resources and services.
Member churches of the 102-year-old council include Lutheran, African-Methodist-Episcopal, AME Zion, American Baptist, Armenian Church of American, Disciples of Christ, Christian-Methodist-Episcopal, Church of the Brethren, Community of Christ, Old Catholic, Episcopal, Presbyterian, Greek Orthodoz, United Church of Christ, United Methodist and other denominations from Santa Barbara to San Diego.
The council task force also partners with Church Women United, Fuller Theological Seminary, National Farm Workers Ministry and the South Coast Interfaith Council.
“The task force charge is to find our women veterans wherever they are in our communities and to reach them so they’re not afraid to gather with one another,” Welch said. “They’re feeling a little broken when they return to civilian life. They are mothers, wives, daughters, careerists, but they’re also veterans having a hard time adjusting to civilian life.”
Cohen, Welch and the task force’s 16 active members are “dedicated to veterans’ care, so they devote a lot of time working with congregations, colleges and community organizations to identify resources and options available for women veterans,” she said.
According to Welch, Pasadena City College has the second best veterans services group in California on its campus. Task force volunteers help find females to increase participation in PCC’s monthly luncheons and resource speakers to address problems and challenges.
Mara Title of Pasadena, a former Air Force first lieutenant, is now a master of divinity candidate at Fuller Theological Seminary who’ll return to the Air Force as a chaplain when she graduates. She feels a spiritual responsibility to help former sisters in service.
Professor Kutter Calloway told her about the task force. Her contact with Cohen and Welch inspired her to form another veterans’ assistance group at Fuller and then, with psychology students who’d founded the Students Serving Veterans club, merged the two into a Student Veterans of America chapter to improve impact.
“Mara is a shining example of what our women veterans are doing and that’s inspiring other young women,” Welch said.
Welch, 68, saw the devastating effects of non-response for returning Vietnam veterans. She’s determined such a travesty not befall today’s veterans.
“Helping veterans is a non-partisan issue. We ask people to serve around the world, so we must help them if they return home broken,” Welch declared. “We want denominational and community leaders to open doors and programs for veterans and their families, increase sensitivity and awareness of veterans’ issues and challenge others to receive and help veterans.
“We’re not evangelizing. We’re opening our arms like God would open His arms,” she concluded.