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Healing the Moral Wounds of War

One of the dislocations of war for soldiers is the fact that back home, life continues to develop. It means that returning warriors experience a sense of dislocation on top of whatever psychological and emotional burdens they experienced during their deployment. Then add on the difficulty of finding work in a slow economy, especially work that uses or builds upon the military skills soldiers have picked up at the same time their non-military peers were gaining entry-level experience in the civilian sector. Lastly, consider the chronic medical or emotional issues that often follow military service in a war zone. Altogether, these challenges make it difficult for soldiers to return to and thrive in civilian society. To help, the Department of Veterans Affairs launched a new initiative in 2013 to partner with religious groups and train faith leaders to understand the needs of veterans and what resources are available.

Traditionally, support for veterans has addressed their physical and mental needs; in particular, understanding and addressing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder has been a focus of research and provision. More recently, the Veterans Administration has been focusing on “moral injuries.” According to Rita Nakashima Brock of the Soul Repair Center, a research and educational initiative at Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, Texas, moral injury “is the impact of serving in war when you face morally difficult or ambiguous conditions, or wind up witnessing or committing atrocities that violate your core moral values.” Unlike PTSD, which often manifests through flashbacks, nightmares and panic attacks based in traumatic experiences, moral injury “is more reflective, and it requires you to be able to tell a story and think about it.”

It has more to do with how we make sense of our world and our place within it. One of the difficulties with moral injury is the need to talk about the precipitating crisis. “To open up is difficult, to talk is difficult, to relate, and those are the big things that a lot of times...hold us back, even from seeking services,” says military veteran Aliyah Hunter in a 8-minute news video prepared by correspondent Kim Lawton for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting-edge reporting at the intersection of faith and society. For more on moral injury, see the 7 1/2-minute extended interview with Rita Nakashima Brock. Also see our resource, “Ministering to Veterans,” and our feature article, “From Accessibility to Inclusion” for perspective on how to more fully welcome and include people with disabilities in the life of the faith community.

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