Moral injury is a relatively recent term used to describe a crisis that soldiers have faced for centuries, the internal suffering that results from doing something against your moral code. In essence it is a wound to the conscience. However, it is not just military members that can experience this. And what is this?
It is soul anguish, a broken spirit, a shredded soul.
Anyone who works with marginalized, at-risk populations has probably seen that empty stare that can be moral injury. People in poverty. People struggling with addiction. People whose daily lives and their choices erode their feeling of being a good and decent person, worthy of respect. People who carry unprocessed grief and guilt in ordinary life. People with stressful life-and-death type situational jobs such as police officers, doctors and nurses. Because of things we do, witness, are ordered to do, or fail to do in high stakes situations. We can lose our moral foundations and our sense of being a good person.
In war, it's often your job to do those things that violate everything you were ever taught is wrong. Moral injury afflicts ordinary moral people, when no good choice is possible in situations where people must use the power they have to act, knowing they will cause harm, or violate their own core moral values. In those situations we actually don't lose our moral conscience, but in judging ourselves, we become both betrayer and betrayed. A soul divided against itself.
Moral injury is a broken spirit - not a disorder or a psychiatric condition, though it profoundly effects our mental health. Moral injury is the feeling that one is no longer possible to be good anymore. It is the loss of the capacity for trust and empathy, of a sense of meaning, and even of faith in God.
Dr. William Nash Discusses Moral Injury Beyond the Military Context
The emerging issue of moral injury has been most often associated with returning military personnel. However, Volunteers of America believes this construct extends beyond the military setting, requiring more investigation into how to identify and treat moral injury among diverse populations. This video highlights an interview with Dr. William P. Nash, speaking on the subject.
“I returned to sleepless nights, to thoughts and memories of war. There was no moral shelter with which to protect myself. ‘Moral injury’ helps me name something about myself that resists my knowing it completely – a disconnect, or a rift, I feel between the self that went to and supported the war and the self that looks back on it as anathema to who I am.”Michael Yandell, U.S. Army and Iraq War veteran
Volunteers of America is committed to broadening the public, faith-based and medical community’s knowledge about the effects of moral injury. Our goals are the widespread acknowledgement that moral injury is a legitimate obstruction to personal well-being for a vast spectrum of populations and communities and extensive training in how to address it in those populations.
Volunteers of America’s moral injury repair initiatives have increased our capacity to serve veterans in crisis and at risk of suicide. Engaging staff who are veterans and who are certified mental health specialists (via certification as Veteran Peer Support Specialists, a recognized mental health specialty), our training programs offer critical skills to strengthen veterans against the challenges they face.