Moral Injury Down Under

Nearly half of all those leaving Australia’s defence force experience a mental disorder within five years. Those researching the impact and working to support veterans say mental health needs to remain front of mind this Anzac Day.

I didn’t know what Anzac day was (though contextually, it seemed close to what is now called Veterans Day in the US). Turns out that I was mostly correct…in the US what is now called Veterans Day was first known as Armistice Day, celebrating the end of World War I. Similarly, Anzac day was meant to commemorate those who served in the Australian and New Zealand armed forces during World War I.

Regardless, the opening quote is a sobering statistic. It really puts the fact that serving in the armed services, even in a country that is not known for its interventions like the ‘major powers’ still has an epidemic of suicides and other mental ramifications of being in the military.

This is the first article I’ve seen from ‘down under’ that uses the term moral injury. In fact, the article makes it explicit that it is relatively new.

Ms Jamieson defines Moral Injury as a violation of moral codes, which can lead to deep feelings of betrayal, anger, guilt and shame, and heighten the risk of suicide in serving and ex-serving military personnel. She believes MI is often mistakenly labelled as PTSD and it may explain why many veterans diagnosed with PTSD do not respond to conventional treatments.

I’m often asked, as both a veteran and a researcher on moral injury, how people can help. There’s this mistaken belief that veterans can ‘heal’ their wounds through talk therapy, empathy, etc. I don’t think that’s the telos of moral injury. Rather, moral injury is something that is always there lurking in the psyche. Rather than trying to heal veterans, therapists and friends should really just listen…there is nothing to ‘do,’ just listen to their stories without judgement or reaction. As an Anzac vet of Vietnam, who’s restoring an old pub/hotel as a retreat center says:

“This retreat isn’t here to heal people, it gives veterans an opportunity to talk with other vets,” he [Mr. Carter] said. 

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