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Moral Injury: The War Inside


What is Moral Injury?

Moral Injury is a relatively recent term used to describe a crisis that soldiers have faced for centuries, the internal suffering that results from breaking your own moral code. It's a wound of the conscience, and it's not just military members who struggle. Anyone can experience Moral Injury.

At Volunteers of America, we’re prioritizing Moral Injury research and your donation today can help support our injury repair initiatives and increase our capacity to serve veterans and other Americans at risk of suicide.


Effects of Moral Injury

Moral Injury breaks the spirit. It makes people question their ability to do the right thing and leaves them contaminated with the feeling that they're "bad," "disgusting," or "beyond redemption." They may feel that they have an evil twin lurking inside. Moral Injury often leads to self-harm. People turn to alcohol, drugs, and self-isolation to avoid the pain of their feelings. The War Inside may leave some emotionally dead.

Imagine a soldier who takes a life in the line of duty. No matter how much good he does, he believes he’s a bad person. He hates himself, hurts himself. He lives with Moral Injury.

Imagine a nurse who blames herself for losing a patient. She questions her own self-worth and abuses pain killers to numb the constant emotional struggle. She lives with Moral Injury.

Imagine a defense attorney who wins a trial for a guilty client. He did his job, but he sees himself as a villain. Even when he leaves the profession, he drinks to forget. He’s one of the many who struggle with Moral Injury. At Volunteers of America, we can help him find peace.

Imagine a school bus driver who falls asleep at the wheel. She blames herself for every injury, every life, and every day, she considers taking her own. She lives with Moral Injury.

Imagine a struggling single mother who neglects her child to work the night-shift. She regrets every second he’s alone in an empty apartment. She lives with Moral Injury.


Hope for Moral Injury

Resilience Strength Training (RST)

Developed by Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph.D., RST is meant to help people process The War Inside. During RST, we learn to stop attacking ourselves, face our Moral Injury, and cope. RST was made possible by a near one million dollar grant from Bristol Myers Squibb.

The process is designed to help people:

▸ Bond with others and redevelop their capacity to trust

▸ Process moral injury together in a safe and supportive group

▸ Learn self-care skills that can help them maintain recovery and

▸ Have the resources to be more resilient in the future

The Shay Moral Injury Center

Under the direction of Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph.D. and named for Jonathan Shay, the Shay Moral Injury Center at Volunteers of America aims to deepen understanding of Moral Injury and the many populations who experience it. The center builds on Volunteers of America's work, spanning more than a century, of helping veterans and others who fight a war inside.

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    Personal Stories of Moral Injury

    Read "The Momentum of Hope," a collection of real experiences with Moral Injury. See how Moral Injury has impacted so many people from veterans to caregivers, including Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock and our Chief Executive Office, Mike King.

    View Stories
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    The Shay Moral Injury Center

    Named for Jonathan Shay, the Shay Moral Injury Center at Volunteers of America aims to deepen understanding of moral injury and the many populations who experience it. Under the direction of Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph.D., the center will build on Volunteers of America's work, spanning more than a century, of helping veterans and others who live with emotional trauma.

    Learn More
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    Meet Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock

    Rev. Rita Nakashima Brock, Ph.D., is the Senior Vice President of Moral Injury and the Director of the Shay Moral Injury Center. She leads the organization's efforts to deepen the understanding of Moral Injury and the many populations who experience it. Learn more about her impact.

    Learn More