Rita Nakashima Brock, a theologian, and Herman Keizer Jr., a former military chaplain, are co-directors of the Soul Repair Center of Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University. The center is scheduled to open Nov. 12
While intense national focus has been turned on post-traumatic stress disorder, little attention has been paid to moral injury in war. They are not the same.
PTSD is a reaction to terror that inhibits the brain’s abilities to calm fear and integrate feeling and memory. Brain injuries and previous trauma create greater vulnerability to PTSD. Moral injury can occur in a healthy, well-functioning prefrontal cortex, which governs our understanding of moral values, evaluates our behavior, creates a coherent memory narrative, makes moral judgments and organizes perception and feeling into an empathetic response to others.
Moral injury occurs when a war combatant violates deeply held moral beliefs and can no longer make sense out of the world. Vietnam veteran and philosopher Camillo “Mac” Bica describes it as the destruction of moral identity. Psychiatrist Jonathan Shay, who worked with Vietnam veterans, explains it as an unmaking of character. It happens in many ways: killing; failing to stop an atrocity or committing one; having to fight a war one thinks is unjust; or treating human remains disrespectfully.
It comes also as survivor guilt and feeling betrayed by officers, national leaders or members of one’s unit. It results in shame, guilt, a desire to make amends, a sense of futility about life, rejection of faith, depression, addiction and profound inner anguish that includes feelings of worthlessness, anger, mistrust and despair.
The center will seek to bring veterans “all the way home.”
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