Moral Injury… New Concept, Old Concept?

posted in: Leadership, Medicine, Politics | 0

There is a great deal of conversation these days around the concept and idea of “moral injury“. Moral injury is the damage done to one’s conscience, psyche or moral compass as a result of experiencing and/or perpetrating things that transgress or challenge our most deeply held human beliefs. It is used most often in association with military veterans who have been in situations that defy most of our “normal” imaginations.

Examples of moral injury in a military setting include:

  • failing to provide medical assistance to a fellow soldier or civilian in need
  • giving orders that lead to the death of innocent bystanders or fellow soldiers
  • experiencing the death of fellow soldiers and/or innocent bystanders
  • using deadly force in combat that causes harm or death, doing it knowingly or even accidentally but without alternatives
  • and unfortunately the list goes on…

In the world of mental health, many veterans struggling with issues of PTSD & TBI’s (traumatic brain injury) are treated for their outward symptoms, issues of anger, anxiety, guilt and shame. However, I believe that for there to be any of hope of return to optimal health, underlying factors and causes, such as those sustained by the moral injuries, need to be considered, and factored in as well. These are very deeply held challenges and beliefs that may not be as self evident, or even recognized by either the sufferer or their health care provider. Is it part of the whole picture? Does it need to be addressed separately or as a part of the whole process?

I was also moved this week when a co-worker shared with me concerns related to the upcoming Memorial Day holiday. This is a day when we remember our fallen veterans and those who “serve”. “I cringe knowing I will hear ‘thank you for your service’ because I feel I’m put into an awkward situation.” Do they know what they’re ‘thanking me for?’ ‘Do they realize I was only serving here locally?’ ‘Others are the ones who should REALLY be thanked.’

And there are other perspectives from those with longer service. Here’s a clip of a short interview with Grif Griffin, co-founder of Combat Flip-Flops (of Shark Tank fame) on his thoughts on being thanked for his service. For him, it’s about him wanting people to know more. It’s a complicated situation that I think is challenged in today’s sound bite culture.

So, this coming Memorial Day, my wish is for those interested in learning more, to really do so. With social media today, there is no lack of resources and/or great sources of material.

  • Learn and maybe consider supporting the Moral Injury Project at “Syracuse University formed in Summer 2014 after a gathering of academics, administrators, researchers, religious scholars, veterans, professors, chaplains, and mental health providers addressed the question: What are we doing about moral injury among US military veterans?”
  • Watch a movie about how complicated war really is… “it’s sorta weird being honored for the worst day of your life”, a quote from the movie Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk.
  • Learn more about the work being done by veterans such as Grif Griffin referenced above, and how you can help and/or support. Combat Flip-Flops was featured on Shark Tank in a memorable performance. Start watching at 30 minutes with the best scene right at about 35 minutes!

But most importantly, be mindful of the power and effect your words may have when you thank someone for their service.

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