Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Military chaplains emphasize spiritual health during COVID-19 pandemic

Soldier in front of military sculpture In a time when many are dealing with anxiety and fear over a new disease with no cure available, comfort can come in the form of spiritual wellness. Spiritual caregivers like Navy Lt. Nahum Melendez (pictured), a chaplain at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, help patients and their families nurture that spiritual wellness. (U.S. Navy photo by MC2 (SW/AW) Kurtis A. Hatcher, Walter Reed National Military Medical Center)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Psychological Fitness | Total Force Fitness

In a time when many are dealing with anxiety and fear over a new disease with no cure available, comfort can come in the form of spiritual wellness. Spiritual health is a domain of Total Force Fitness that focuses on beliefs and practices. The goal is to build connectedness through hope, meaning, and purpose. Spiritual caregivers like the chaplains of the military help people nurture that connectedness. However, during the COVID-19 pandemic when physical proximity is limited, chaplains are getting creative with how they offer spiritual support.

“There’s so much from our spiritual traditions that assume an in-person connection,” said Pastor (Cmdr.) David Jeltema, a Navy chaplain at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. “To suddenly be in an environment where the way we operate has changed so radically and realize that the way to care for patients is actually to maintain a distance is a real shift in how we deliver care.”

New rules at WRNMMC and other hospitals in the Military Health System severely limit who can come in contact with patients, whether the patient has COVID-19 or not. Chaplains and family members of patients communicate from doorways and through phone calls instead of offering comfort from inside a hospital room. According to Jeltema, patients, family members, and even hospital staff are feeling the effects of the lack in closeness.

“This is a very isolating disease that we are dealing with,” Jeltema said. “When people are not able to experience things like acts of hospitality, I think they find that there’s a void in their lives.”

WRNMMC’s chaplains have found new ways to fill that void and offer spiritual support without direct proximity. Chaplains are taking a more proactive approach to contacting family members of patients and meeting their spiritual needs. WRNMMC’s chaplains also have an official Walter Reed Pastoral Care Facebook page as an initiative that has opened connection between community members, staff, and outpatients. The page extends the voluntary broadcasting of daily and weekly services to hospital in-patients. Virtual communication for both patients and family members has helped the chaplains reach more people for spiritual care and stay efficient.

“As spiritual caregivers, we are tasked to find creative ways to nurture,” said Navy Chaplain (Lt.) Nahum Melendez, who also works at WRNMMC. “We are hopeful that in the absence of physical touch there can be a different, transcendental touching of the spirit instead.”

These creative ways to nurture spiritual health extend beyond organized vocations and religions. Both Jeltema and Melendez emphasize that, at its core, spiritual health centers on what gives people meaning.

“I think that spiritual health is really about having a good sense of identity of who we are and what our purpose is in life,” Jeltema said, “and what is important is what we value.”

These values can be structured through religious practices. But, spirituality can also take the form of time spent with family and friends. Activities like yoga and meditation are rising in popularity in hospitals. Chaplains like Melendez use hand held labyrinth exercises as an innovative practice during the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. Melendez guides patients to walk these symbolic paths, meandering yet purposeful, and use them as tools to develop the spiritual life while isolated from community support.

Jeltema is hopeful that people battling fear during the pandemic will explore their spiritual health to ease that fear. Whether through religion or purposeful practice, Jeltema finds that connecting to the world is important for overall health. Nearly every hospital throughout the MHS has one or more chaplains to provide spiritual support to patients and their families. As the COVID-19 pandemic continues in the world, beneficiaries and families are encouraged to reach out to these spiritual caregivers to find a path that works for them.

“It's a real test of our spiritual health, when we look at what we do with fear,” Jeltema said. “This is a really good time to look outside of oneself to see how that fear can be overcome. There's a lot of wisdom from a lot of different spiritual traditions that I think one can find in a time like this.”

Melendez agrees, highlighting that community is a great place to find spirituality. While gathering in-person is not on the table, checking in is a way for people to make sure that their loved ones stay spiritually healthy.

“We can all help one another to reach that consequential state of mind and soul,” Melendez said, “by simply asking what it is that gives you meaning and purpose in life, and encouraging each other to do just that.”

You also may be interested in...

JTF Coyote begins pediatric COVID-19 clinics as adult booster vaccination numbers increase

Article Around MHS
11/23/2021
Military health personnel giving the COVID-19 vaccine

The Vermont National Guard now supports the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic with vaccinations for youth in the 5 to 11 age group and booster clinics for the general adult population.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus

Healing Is An Art, Art is Healing: Exhibit Highlights the Healing Power of Art

Article Around MHS
11/10/2021
Service members look at art included in the Healing Arts Exhibit on display throughout November at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Healing is an art, and art is healing was the sentiments shared among those who attended the opening ceremony for the 18th Annual Healing Arts Exhibit at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center Oct. 27.

Recommended Content:

Psychological Fitness

Fort Knox dietician reveals personal staples for healthy family meals, picky eaters

Article Around MHS
10/8/2021
Vegetables displayed at a grocery store.

Making sure everyone in the family is eating healthy can sometimes be overwhelming and oftentimes, families aren’t sure where to start.

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness | Total Force Fitness

USECAF receives insight into COVID19 vaccinations at Reserve wing

Article Around MHS
10/8/2021
Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones visits with 433rd Airlift Wing members at Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, Oct. 2, 2021.

Under Secretary of the Air Force Gina Ortiz Jones visited the 433rd Airlift Wing here to meet with Reserve Citizen Airmen leaders on mandatory COVID-19 vaccination efforts, Oct. 2, 2021.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus

Compassionate Caring with COVID Vax Commitment

Article Around MHS
10/6/2021
A  female doctor poses for a photo.

When pregnant patients have an appointment with Lt. Cmdr. Megan Northup at Naval Hospital Bremerton, they get more than a qualified and caring OB/GYN physician.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Health Promotion duo optimizes health on Incirlik Air Base

Article Around MHS
9/30/2021
Air Force Capt. Sydney Sloan, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion element chief (right), and Air Force Senior Airman Gloriann Manapsal, 39th Operational Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion technician (left), promote making healthy choices at the Sultan’s Inn Dining Facility on Incirlik Air Base, Turkey.

The 39th Operation Medical Readiness Squadron health promotion team provides and integrates evidence-based programs to optimize the health and readiness, even during these unprecedented times.

Recommended Content:

Health Readiness | Total Force Fitness | Coronavirus

Finding time for fitness during the work week just got easier

Article Around MHS
9/29/2021
A person works out the gym.

The new Army Civilian Fitness and Health Promotion Program now encourages employees to focus on fitness while at work.

Recommended Content:

Physical Fitness | Total Force Fitness

Regular physical activity is important for health and performance

Article Around MHS
9/29/2021
A Coast Guardsman works out at Coast Guard Air Station Savannah.

Those who get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity every week have a much lower risk of obesity, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease—the top killers of Americans every year.

Recommended Content:

Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness

Retired colonel leads Fort Irwin COVID response mission

Article Around MHS
9/28/2021
Army Col. Richard Hopkins, the COVID-19 response coordinator with Weed Army Community Hospital, collects paperwork from a Soldier who received the COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination event.

Retired Army Col. Richard Hopkins volunteered under the Army’s COVID-19 Retiree Recall Program to return to service as the COVID-19 response coordinator for Weed Army Community Hospital and Fort Irwin, California.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

What is a "healthy" weight-loss eating plan, anyway?

Article Around MHS
9/28/2021
A female soldier poses with an apple in her hand.

Weight loss sounds simple: take less “energy in” (fuel from food and drinks, measured in calories) and use more “energy out” (calories burned through daily physical activity and exercise).

Recommended Content:

Nutritional Fitness | Total Force Fitness

ARNORTH military support to FEMA begins in Tennessee, continues in five states

Article Around MHS
9/24/2021
Prepared COVID-19 vaccine shots wait to be administered to an Airman. Members of the 134th Air Refueling Wing were eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccines during Unit Training Assembly here May 2nd, 2021.

At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, approximately 20 military medical personnel deployed to Tennessee to support civilian healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients in local hospitals.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

COVID-19 can lead to long-term health concerns

Article Around MHS
9/23/2021
Debra Lamb, a 30-year civil service veteran at Ft. Carson, contracted the COVID-19 virus late in 2020 and experienced a harrowing ordeal before partially recovering months later.

Debra Lamb, a 30-year civil service veteran at Ft. Carson, contracted the COVID-19 virus late in 2020 and experienced a harrowing ordeal before partially recovering months later.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

6th Medical Group Delivers Mandatory Vaccines

Article Around MHS
9/21/2021
An Airman from the 6th Medical Group prepares a COVID-19 vaccine for distribution at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

Airmen from the 6th Medical Group began redistributing doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, on Sept. 9, 2021. This comes after the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum on Aug. 23, 2021, mandating all active duty personnel to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

After the ventilator COVID survivor advocates for vaccine

Article Around MHS
9/15/2021
Tim Harris is sedated while on a ventilator

Tim Harris, a mobilization and planning specialist, U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, is sedated while on a ventilator at Brooke Army Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, June 27, 2020.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Army Medicine Europe Provides Additional COVID Vaccinations for Immune Compromised

Article Around MHS
9/13/2021
Franz Dietrich, a German local national assigned to Training Support Activity Europe, receives a COVID-19 vaccination at the 7th Army Training Command's (7ATC) Rose Barracks, Vilseck, Germany, May 4, 2021. The U.S. Army Health Clinics at Grafenwoehr and Vilseck conducted a "One Community" COVID-19 vaccine drive May 3-7 to provide thousands of appointments to the 7ATC community of Soldiers, spouses, Department of the Army civilians, veterans and local nationals employed by the U.S. Army. (U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)

Army medical treatment facilities in Europe are now offering an additional dose of COVID vaccine for immune compromised beneficiaries.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.