Veterans Need Help Healing Their Moral Injuries

Disclaimer: This turned into more of an editorial/commentary article than just focusing your attention on a great article I thought should be shared. The first part of this article are based on my experiences and my views while in the military, as well as, subsequent experiences with the VA and the Vet Center.

I think this might just be one of the most important articles I’ve read all year (the 365 day year, not “in 2015, so far” year). I can’t help but think that every single one of us suffers from a wounded sense of morality because of things we did willingly in the moment or things we did ONLY BECAUSE we were ordered to do. I also think we don’t even realize the scope of our moral injuries until we’ve been out of the military for a little while.

I suspect we will have to be our own advocates in the healing process from the moral injuries we suffer from our time in the military. In my experience, treatment is always geared towards PTSD and MST; and while there are things that affected my sense of self and depression/anxiety that I’ve begun to heal from, I have no better way to deal with the guilt of not being able to do anything when the girls that worked for me were raped or assaulted. I have no better way to deal with the appalling realization that I carried a knife in my boot for the sole reason of stabbing someone intentionally to keep said person from getting away with doing physical harm to me (P.S. I was out almost 15 years before I realized I was dealing with the affects of these types of things). To break it down to a more non-violent example: how many of us got married because ultimately we thought we’d be safer married than those girls who were single. Depending on your belief systems, that right there is enough to cause some serious moral injury, particularly if said safe marriage ends in divorce. This type of blow to an independent spirit is a moral injury of sorts; for a kind, caring, generous spirit, using someone in this way, is reprehensible. And very few therapists ever addresses these types of challenges to our sense of self and morality.

For some, the examples in the article below will ring truer than the ones I mentioned above. Everyone has a different sense of morality so the things that affect one may not affect another. One of the beautiful things about veterans is very few of us judge each other’s experiences. We have to start talking about some of these things – even if for now it is among groups of veterans and not out completely publically. We have to begin healing our morality before we can be advocates, right? That said, I truly believe we have a responsibility to the next generations of veterans – and there will be more – to pave the way for the right diagnosis and the right treatments. Because many of the veterans from yesterday and today are still suffering because many of the treatments that are supposed to help repair our psyches are not quite right.

My intent by posting this is not to trigger bad memories that may cause depression or anxiety. If, however, this happens, please, please, please, make an appointment with your local VA or Vet Center to talk with someone about these experiences.

Healing a Wounded Sense of Morality:

But many of Amidon’s patients talk about another kind of trauma, a psychic bruise that, unlike PTSD, isn’t rooted in fear. Some of these soldiers describe experiences in which they, or someone close to them, violated their moral code: hurting a civilian who turned out to be unarmed, shooting at a child wearing explosives, or losing trust in a commander who became more concerned with collecting decorative pins than protecting the safety of his troops. Others, she says, are haunted by their own inaction, traumatized by something they witnessed and failed to prevent. In 2012, when the first wave of veterans was returning from the Middle East, these types of experiences were so prevalent at OASIS that “the patients asked for a separate group where they could talk about the heavier stuff, the guilt stuff,” Amidon says. In January 2013, the center created individual and group therapy opportunities specifically for soldiers to talk about the wartime situations that they felt went against their sense of right and wrong. (Rules of engagement are often an ineffective guide through these gray areas: A 2008 survey of soldiers deployed at the beginning of the conflict in Iraq found that nearly 30 percent of the soldiers in each group encountered ethical situations in which they were unsure how to respond.)

This article was written by: Rachel Baker – Click to follow on Twitter