Moral Injury in a Time of War: Background

Moral Injury in a Time of War: Background

PRO STATEMENT: Business Item 1119

“Moral Injury and Spiritual Healing in a Time of War”

I am a member of the FCC Oakland and I urge this assembly to pass this item 1119 for research & reflection. I believe God is calling us to undertake this urgent ministry of healing moral injury.

The current veteran suicide rate averages 18 a day. Our 23 million veterans are not even 8% of the population, though they are 20% of all suicides. The rate among veterans under 30 is alarmingly high. Between 2005 and 2009, suicides rose 26% nationally, but in Texas veteran suicides rose 40%.

These numbers fail to convey the devastating impact of such suicides on veterans’ families and friends, on our communities, and on other veterans. 

But, you may say, how do we know moral injury is a factor in these suicides and how can churches help?

The suicide rate has been climbing, even though the Veterans Administration has done extensive research on PTSD and developed better treatments for it. VA mental health professionals have sought another reason for the suicides, and in late 2009, they named a new wound of war they call moral injury.

Moral injury is not PTSD. Post Traumatic Stress is a fear-victim reaction to danger and can affect anyone, even a sociopath. Moral injury may be a greater factor in suicides than any other invisible wound of war, including PTSD.

Moral injury can only be experienced by those with ethical values and are capable of empathy. The military teaches about moral conduct in war, including protecting noncombatants and not torturing prisoners. However, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, especially, create conditions for greater moral injury because they blur the lines between civilians and combatants.  Soldiers must sometimes kill without knowing whether a child or woman is innocent or lethal. 

Moral injury can result from killing or committing atrocities, but it can also come from failing to prevent harm or witnessing a close friend be slain. Even when killing may have saved lives, a veteran may later feel remorse or guilt. Veterans with moral injury are usually referred to clergy.

Yet, VA chaplains cannot meet all the needs of veterans suffering moral injury. In addition, half of those serving in Afghanistan and Iraq are from the Reserve and National Guard. Many live in small towns that are remote from VA services.  A recent study found that reservists are twice as likely as active duty military to return from war with mental health problems.

This spring a group of us concerned about veterans began the formation of a Soul Repair Center to study moral injury. When we reached out to the VA for help, they welcomed the “potential areas of synergy” between the VA and religious communities who want to support veterans with moral injury. The chief of VA chaplains, Rev. Keith Ethridge, is working with us, along with other clinicians and chaplains.

If we vote yes today, we will become the first Christian denomination to undertake this ministry as a whole church.

I believe God calls us to minister to veterans in our communities.  As religious people, we offer unique resources for healing moral injury.We understand guilt, remorse, and contrition. We have many forms of service for contributing to a better world.

We know, nothing can separate us from the love of God and we live this faith when we support those who suffer a crisis of faith that comes from despair and self-condemnation.

I urge you not only to vote affirmative today, but to study and reflect on moral injury and spiritual care in your local congregation and reach out to veterans. I can promise, it will make you a better congregation.

When our nation’s leaders send our young men and women off to war, we will know how to bring them home to peace.