Vanderbilt doctor of ministry degree equips VA, military chaplains for ‘real-world’ roles

The Rev. Thomas Crosby, one of the doctoral candidates featured in the following article, serves as a Veterans’ Administration chaplain at the Menlo Park VA Hospital. Crosby is in a three-part covenant with the Congregational Church of Belmont, the VA and the United Church of Christ, our denomination.

By Ann Marie Deer Owens

Vanderbilt Divinity School’s first class of integrative chaplains—who are focused on serving veterans and active-duty service members through best practices in spiritual and mental health care—will earn a doctor of ministry next spring.

Thanks to a unique partnership between the Divinity School and Integrative Mental Health, a national program of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 105 students are enrolled in the three-year doctorate program. About 90 percent of the students are either VA chaplains or active-duty chaplains in the Department of Defense.

“This program is an important priority for Vanderbilt Divinity School because today’s chaplains are on the front line of mental health care, particularly in the VA and DOD,” said C. Melissa Snarr, program director and associate professor of ethics and society.

Snarr, who also holds the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Chair, noted that DOD chaplains must maintain complete confidentiality in conversations with service members, so training in mental health care is vital. She and Keith G. Meador, director of Integrative Mental Health with the VA and the Anne Geddes Stahlman Professor of Medical Ethics, began conversations about five years ago on how best to extend and transform the VA certificate program into a full-fledged Vanderbilt Divinity School doctoral program.

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