Moral injury is a term that describes what can occur from what we witness or what we do.  In the past several years it is used to describe the experience of many soldiers returning from war. When soldiers have experiences which have exposed them to events which are considered morally injurious to them because these events have transgressed deeply held moral beliefs the result can be a moral injury. 


In terms of war, moral injuries can be the result either of direct participation in acts of combat or indirect acts as witnessing death and/or dying; failing to prevent immoral acts of others; or giving orders which can be perceived as violations of moral beliefs or expectations.  Soldiers returning from both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars are increasingly diagnosed with moral injuries.


Moral injuries differ from PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).  PTSD is a mental disorder and requires a diagnosis.  Moral injury results from a violation of what a person considers right and wrong and so can go undiagnosed and can last many years or a lifetime. These are wounds to the soul of a person.  Examples of PTSD symptoms are flashbacks, memory loss, noise, crowds, etc.  Examples of symptoms resulting in moral injuries are sorrow, grief, shame, regret, alienation.  Both can result in anger, depression, anxiety, nightmares, self-medication and self-destruction.


Casualties of the most current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan number in the hundreds of thousands.  Returning soldiers from both wars have and continue to experience PTSD and moral injuries.  Moral injuries tend to receive less public “press” because they are often hidden.  Also contributing to an increase of moral injuries is the numbers of “tours of duty” soldiers are required to do in these wars.


There are number of things that can be done to treat moral injuries. Professional therapy groups specifically designed for veterans offer a safe space to share traumatic war experiences. Along with therapy veterans are encouraged to do community service and acts of kindness.  The reasoning behind this is to have the veterans recognize the goodness in themselves and that they are welcomed in and can contribute to community.  Having a family member or friend to confide in is essential. A faith community can be influential in helping veterans heal from moral injuries.


In reflecting on the Catholic Social Teaching principle of Call to Family, Community, and Participation, I realized that seeking the well-being of all and the common good must include all of our most vulnerable members.  One group of our most vulnerable members is veterans and especially those who carry the burdens of moral injuries.


Ann Kasparek