Treating Moral Injuries in Vietnam Veterans
The Vietnam War lasted from August 4, 1964 through May 7, 1975. It was arguably the longest and most unpopular war the United States has ever been in with over 57,000 soldiers killed and 153,303 wounded. Many soldiers who served in the Vietnam War returned home with moral injuries that still cause mental pain and alienation.
A moral injury is the damage done to an individual’s conscience when they perform an act or fail to prevent an act that goes against their personal values or ethical code of conduct. Some examples of moral injury include the death of civilians, orders that result in injury or death to a fellow soldier, failing to report knowledge of sexual assault or murder of civilians, and following illegal or immoral orders.
What are the effects of moral injuries in Vietnam Veterans?
Moral injury can lead to a range of effects including depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts. These feelings can prevent a soldier from living a full, happy life.
After a moral injury, Vietnam Veterans report:
- Feeling shame and guilt
- Anxiety about possible consequences or lack of consequences
- Anger about betrayal-based moral injuries
- Alienation from their community
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
It is important to understand that, although they can overlap, moral injuries are different from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Moral injuries weigh on the individual’s conscience and can be particularly troubling as they approach end of life.
How do we treat moral injuries?
At Crossroads Hospice & Palliative Care, we see a lot of Vietnam Veterans who express pain from moral injuries. Our team has been trained by the United States Department of Veteran Affairs to work with Veterans to address this pain.
In many cases, the conversations Veterans have with our chaplains and social workers are the first time they have ever spoken about the cause of their moral injuries. Our team works with each Veteran to address their inner conflict, make amends tailored to the individual’s situation, and practice self-forgiveness.
Treating these moral injuries in Vietnam Veterans is just as important as treating physical ailments they may have. With the whole-patient model of care in hospice, each patient has a team of support addressing their physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual needs. In this environment, they are often able to find healing for their moral injuries which brings them great comfort as they approach end of life.
To learn more about caring for Veterans and the services Crossroads provides, please call 1-888-564-3405.
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