For Veterans, a Path to Healing ‘Moral Injury’

When you have a physical injury, go to the doctor. A psychological injury? Get thee to a psychiatrist. But what can be done if you suffer from a “moral injury?”

The term “moral injury” was popularized in the mid-1990s by Jonathan Shay, a staff psychiatrist at a Department of Veterans Affairs outpatient clinic in Boston who was working with veterans suffering from psychological trauma. In his book “Achilles in Vietnam,” Dr. Shay describes moral injury as a result of being ordered to do something in a “high-stakes situation” that violates an individual’s deeply held beliefs about what is right.

In the heat of battle, soldiers are often ordered to do things that are unspeakable in civil society: kill enemy soldiers, regardless of their age; toss grenades into houses, regardless of whether there are noncombatants inside; burn down villages, regardless of loss of life. These atrocities become memories that many veterans cannot shake.

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