Moral Injury in Veterans

By: James H. Mukoyama, Jr, Major General, United States Army – Retired

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Many of our veterans carry memories involving killing and other moral transgressions throughout their lives; their suppressed guilt or shame can result in withdrawal, depression and suicide.  Moral injury often creates a sense of worthlessness, a feeling of being unlovable – that even God could not love them.  A World War II veteran in hospice care remembering fallen comrades, a Vietnam veteran wondering if tomorrow is worth living, or a veteran from Iraq living with the memory of the child they had to kill, moral injury affects them all.

Although the term moral injury is relatively new, the condition has existed within those who served in the  military and in professions such as first-responders and law enforcement. For more than 2,000 years, nations and cultures have found ways to serve those who returned from war. For many veterans and service members, their wars will never end;  the war demons buried in their minds and souls will eventually rise to haunt and cause them pain.  Now every house of worship has the opportunity to continue what the ancients began. Through the grace and forgiveness of a moral authority, a loving God, those who suffer from moral injury can find relief.

Moral injury is a spiritual injury. It is thus incumbent upon houses of worship to understand the causes of moral injury and to develop a program within their organization for healing. Houses of worship in every community in our nation can be the center of a new paradigm; a comprehensive approach, working in concert with the local VA, veteran service organizations and community outreach programs ‐ in other words, a Military Caring Network ‐ to serve those service members, veterans and family members who are serving or have served us. These men and women need to be welcomed into a caring community - a supportive social network.

Houses of worship are critical resources in the healing process to help those with moral injury recognize  “what I have,” receive forgiveness from a moral authority and support from a caring community, and rebuild a sense of self-worth through serving others.

Military Outreach USA is a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit faith-based organization dedicated to serving those who have served in our nation’s military, specifically focused on the invisible wounds of war and moral injury.  We are committed to sharing free information, webinars and resources dealing with topics such as VA benefits, homeless programs, suicide prevention and Adopt-A-VA programs. Our comprehensive landmark book on moral injury, They Don’t Give Purple Hearts, is available on our website,