The Many Tentacles of Moral Injury

While the term moral injury (MI) was originally envisioned to address the gap between PTSD and what Vietnam veterans were experiencing after returning from the war, our understanding of the phenomenon has grown (Shay, 2014). Due to recent scholarly work in the fields of servicewomen, healthcare, social work, and many others, we now know that moral injury can appear in many domains. The precursor of MI can be a wide variety of things, such as combat, sexual assault, having to choose who lives or dies in a healthcare setting, being forced to operate in a high stakes environment without needed resources, bullying, hazing, and all forms of injustice.

Given that moral injury refers to the trauma that occurs when one’s sense of moral rightness is violated, MI’s tentacles are everywhere and there is virtually no industry where one could not put together a viable research project on moral injury and gather important data. In other words, there is no human endeavor on this planet where moral injury does not have a chance of occurring.

Moral injury can not only do damage to those who are the direct victims of trauma, but it can affect others who are simply trying to help survivors. Chaplains, social workers, psychiatrists, nurses, physicians, and first responders of all kinds can suffer the consequences of moral injury through secondary trauma.

The tentacles of moral injury can spread even further. One could make the case that whole communities, even nations can be affected by MI. Might one draw the conclusion that non-white ethnic communities in many Western nations are suffering from moral injury due to perceived racial injustices?

MI damages the body, soul and mind. It can lead to long term health effects, psychosis, and even suicide. Many survivors cannot maintain meaningful relationships with others and are prone to substance abuse and homelessness.

MI is such a complex phenomenon that there is no universally agreed upon definition and scholars are still working to define the borders of moral injury. There is years worth of work to be done. One way that Moral Injury Support Network for Servicewomen, Inc. is attacking the problem is through the 2021 Comprehensive Moral Injury Conference (CMIC).

The 2021 CMIC, sponsored by Road Home Program and DoD inTransition, will offer important information from researchers, thought leaders, and practitioners on the subject of moral injury in a wide range of domains and settings, including military and first responders, healthcare, women veterans, social justice, and chaplaincy. Presenters represent a variety of fields, including chaplaincy, psychology, medicine, community health, and others. The conference offers papers, workshops, and panels on assessment tools, interventions, and new research to deepen attendees’ understanding of moral injury and introduce ways of helping those suffering from moral injury.

When one begins to think deeply about moral injury and discuss it with others, it does not take long to realize that MI cuts across every discipline and is probably the source of most people’s deep pain. Because it is so pervasive, the 2021 CMIC is offering continuing education hours for many disciplines, including psychology, social work, chaplaincy, occupational and physical therapy, and counseling.

For more information, go to the conference webpage, or contact Dr. Daniel Roberts at droberts@chaplainconsultants.com.

References

Shay, J. (2014). Moral injury. Psychoanalytic Psychology, 31(2), 182-191.

Seeking Community Partners for Research Project

The overall aim of this project is to explore the phenomenon of secondary moral injury among spouses, ex-spouses, partners, or ex-partners of military service members with a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

In this project, we are using a community based participatory approach, which means we are looking to the community of practice and affected family members to help ensure our design meets the needs of the people we are trying to help. The community of practice includes spouses, ex-spouses, partners, and ex-partners of service members; non-profit organizations and government agencies that work with veterans and families; chaplains; and community health providers.

Community partners do not pay fees for their participation and do not receive compensation. Partners may help us fine tune study design, develop recruiting flyers and messages, make appropriate changes to the interview guide, and be the first to get updates on the project’s progress.

This study was approved by the Thomas Jefferson University Office of Human Research Institutional Review Board. Contact Dr. Daniel Roberts at droberts@chaplainconsultants.com for more information.

A Very Important Book

In the spring of 2019, I was conducting some phone interviews as part of a ground-breaking research project. The study focused on the moral injurious experiences of women veterans, and the data was very disturbing. As someone who has worked in the U.S. military chaplain corps for many years, I realized that many chaplains did not fully grasp all of the very difficult realities that servicewomen face. Later, I learned that many clinicians and social workers also needed the information I was uncovering.

As a result of the data, I decided to create a new conference to educate these support providers on moral injury in women veterans. I also wanted to hear from those chaplains and clinicians who were doing a great job helping servicewomen and veterans. It took nearly a year to put the event together, but a great committee of dedicated people joined me and we managed to get it done.

Needless to say, the conference was a huge success. Participants included women veterans, chaplains, clinicians, social workers, business leaders, and non-profit organizers. Due to COVID-19, the conference was held on the Zoom platform rather than in a hotel. That turned out to be a great boon for us because by having the event online, people from all over the U.S., Canada, and Kuwait were able to attend.

Presenters included those who were conducing leading edge research, providing excellent pastoral care, and instituting new programs for women veterans. We also heard the tragic stories of servicewomen who suffered from moral injury. It was a very compelling program.

Since only about 150 people attended the conference, we needed a way to get the information out to a greater audience. To do so, we created a proceedings book. The content of the book consists of key presentations, including:

  • Contemplative Practices and Lamentations
  • Faith-Based and Secular Meditation: Everyday, Betrayal Trauma and Other Posttraumatic Applications for Personal Practice and with Clients
  • Moral Injury: A Common And Often Neglected Syndrome Among Veterans Experiencing War Trauma
  • Military Moral Injury and Women Veterans
  • Planning a Faith Community Military Veteran Ministry
  • Female Service Members and Veterans and Suicide Risk: What We Need to Know

The information in the book is invaluable, but we decided to keep the cost very affordable. It is more important that we get the knowledge out to those who need it rather than make money. We are a non-profit organization though and we need to make enough money to support our research and education work, as well as pay the staff. To meet all of these goals, we set the price at $65. We expect to publish the book by the end of January of 2021, but you can pre-order from our store now for only $50. It just might be the most important book you read next year.

Dr. Daniel Roberts is an author, consultant, and teacher who conducts world-class education and research in military chaplaincy. He has over 18 years of experience in providing emotional and spiritual support to the men and women in the armed forces. Daniel also provides training and mentorship to thousands of military chaplains through conferences, classroom instruction, and one-on-one coaching. His students include chaplains from the US Army, Air Force, and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Dr. Roberts also helped the CAF develop military doctrine for the deployment of chaplains as religious advisers.

Divine Inspiration and the Rocky Path

Photo by Simon Berger on Unsplash

Whenever we set out to accomplish a goal, we encounter tons of problems, usually a lot more problems than we bargained for or predicted. The challenges often surprise us and it seems that the easier we think something should be, the more likely we are to experience obstacles. As the problems mount, we begin to doubt ourselves and wonder if the whole venture wasn’t a big mistake. I’m speaking about myself of course, but you might be able to relate.

I often feel divinely inspired to start projects. I certainly felt divinely inspired to start my non-profit organization. In divine inspiration, God shows us a beautiful picture, a vista filled with colors and wonder. Our emotions soar, we get excited about doing something amazing, and if we can overcome our fears, we set out on our journey.

Photo by John Salzarulo on Unsplash

What we don’t see is the rocky road that awaits us. It is the difficult path of problems, unforeseen obstacles, heartbreak, and discouragement. We don’t see these things because God does not show them to us. He doesn’t let us in on the secret, because if He did, we wouldn’t get started in the first place. Very few of us are interested in self-inflicted pain. We are not eager to take on challenges that may kill us. I’m not using kill literally here, but I have certainly felt that I was going to die emotionally or spiritually along the way.

If you are anything like me, when the problems hit hard you begin to doubt the divine inspiration that led you down the path you are on. I think that is a mistake. I believe that facing those problems is just as much the point as achieving the outcome. God wants us to tackle tremendously difficult problems. He entices us to do so by showing us the beauty and grandeur of the end result and then He continues to strengthen us, guide us, and help us on the difficult journey, especially when we think we are going to “die”.

Why would God subject us to such pain and frustration? Well, it is because we are amazing people with amazing potential who don’t know our own strengths and are often too interested in comfort to face our fears and rise to the level of greatness that God created us for. I think that every “mistake”, false start, obstacle, painful experience, triumph and lesson learned is part of what God is trying to do in our lives to help us grow into the amazing creations we can be.

God is patient. He doesn’t miracle us to success. From our own little tiny perspective, everything takes too long, works too slow or is too difficult for our tastes, but He waited 13 billion years for you to come along. Scientists say that it took 9 billion years for the Earth to be formed. Bible literalists don’t agree with that, but it makes sense to me. I wish God would work a little quicker on my behalf but that doesn’t seem to be His nature. Of course, if He did, then I would miss the whole point of the journey, which is the growth process.

Look, you can do what you want with all of this, but it really encourages me to know that the problems I encounter in the pursuit of my dreams are not from my misreading God’s divine inspiration, a lack of intelligence on my part or punishment for my unwillingness to conform (I am an incorrigible non-conformist. Not even 30 years in the Army changed that). The rocky path is all part of God’s plan and the best thing for me to do is enjoy every minute of the journey, even the parts that hurt like hell.

Why We Need a Conference for Women Veterans and Clergy Men

As a man myself, and someone who served in the U.S. Army Chaplain Corps for 18 years, I can honestly say that I had no idea how difficult it was to serve as a woman in the military. Four years ago I began to get a clue and it was very disturbing.

In 20I6, I completed my first research project, a dissertation study called, A Comprehensive Plan for Providing Chaplaincy Support to Wounded Female Soldiers: A Delphi Study. That work had a profound impact on my life. In the study, I interviewed women who served in the U.S. Army and were wounded in an overseas deployment. Of the many findings that appeared, two in particular created an emotional stir for me.

First, it became clear that women do not experience the military the same way as men. Despite many policy, regulatory and legislative changes, women are still the object of ridicule, harassment, dismissiveness and disrespect by male peers, leaders and even subordinates. During my interviews, one woman who was a senior level sergeant said, “This is the first time anyone has ever asked me what I think.” A very disturbing statement given that the Army had been paying her for many years to give her opinions and lead soldiers. Unfortunately, too many people blame women for not being outspoken and confident, when it is men who are most to blame for creating an environment in which women are not free to lead in the same way as men. Women who dare to lead with aggression and strength are called “bitches” or “cunts”. Women who are kind and loving are often taken advantage of.

The second disturbing finding was that most women did not have a positive experience with a military chaplain. All of the chaplains were men, and the women found the clergy to be dismissive, uncaring, or quick to refer them to someone else. Based on participants’ statements, the chaplains lacked the empathy, experience, and skill to provide emotional and spiritual support to women struggling to function in a male-dominated world that was already saturated with the stress inherent in a combat environment. I believe that the main problem was not that the chaplain men did not care, but they lacked the training to understand the difficulties women experience in military life.

While my dissertation moved me to continue researching the needs and experiences of military women, it did not prepare me for what was going to happen next. The turning point in my life came as a result of a moral injury study I currently co-lead with a colleague from the University of Phoenix. Moral injury has become a hot topic over the last few years. Unfortunately, most studies and concepts focus on the experiences of men and assume that the data and principles apply equally to women. This is a faulty assumption.

Our study is developing a theory of moral injury in servicewomen by focusing exclusively on the experiences of women veterans. In 2018, I began conducting in-depth interviews with participants and was not at all prepared for what I heard. Women told stories of forced abortions, gang rapes, acts of violence, and other crimes perpetrated against them by the sergeants and officers who were supposed to care for and protect them. Everyone knows that sexual assaults happen in the military, but reading official reports written in the business language of the military or attending semi-annual training that mostly describes victims’ rights and the process of reporting does not have the emotional effect of hearing first-hand what has happened to people. That might be one reason that despite the best efforts of military leaders, little change has occurred in the reported numbers of military sexual violence. We are numb to the devastation that military sexual trauma is having on our young women because they are just numbers on a page, colors on a bar graph.

In listening to these women, my world was rocked. For a while, I had trouble sleeping. Only a heartless person could be unmoved when hearing someone talk about how she had to clean her best friend’s brains off of her own face when her friend shot herself in the head because of an endless string of sexual assaults. These and other stories caused me to think about how little I knew about what was really happening to some women in uniform. I learned that I could only conduct so many interviews in one week. I needed time to decompress, otherwise I would be unable to help anyone.

I also knew that few of my fellow ministers understood either. We think we care. We think we understand. But we don’t truly understand. We all need to hear these stories and recognize that so many servicewomen live in a dark and dangerous place, a place where they are not safe from harm by their fellow soldiers, a place where they cannot afford to express emotions or show weakness.

The conferences this spring in Charleston, SC and Richmond, VA are my answer to the ignorance I share with many of my fellow chaplains and civilian clergy. In these events, we will hear some of the stories of the women veterans who have suffered at the hands of people they once trusted. We will be moved to take action, and we will learn how to provide holistic healing and support from both a spiritual and mental perspective. The conferences will change the lives of all who attend because we will begin to develop collaborative relationships between military chaplains, Veterans Administration chaplains, civilian faith leaders, and community health providers. Women veterans will be exposed to a variety of healing modalities, many of which will be taught by other servicewomen who have been through the fire and came out on the other side. Registration is only $50 and it will probably be the best most important money you have ever spent. Share this article with every woman veteran and faith leader you know.

Dr. Daniel Roberts is an author, consultant, and teacher who conducts world-class education and research in military chaplaincy. He has over 18 years of experience in providing emotional and spiritual support to the men and women in the armed forces. Daniel also provides training and mentorship to thousands of military chaplains through conferences, classroom instruction, and one-on-one coaching. His students include chaplains from the US Army, Air Force, and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Dr. Roberts also helped the CAF develop military doctrine for the deployment of chaplains as religious advisers.

Roberts Research and Consulting is Now Moral Injury Support Network for Servicewomen, Inc.

What originally began as one person’s dream to help servicewomen recover from moral injury and teach military chaplains and civilian clergy provide effective support to women veterans has become the heartfelt goal of many others. Dr. Daniel Roberts first established Roberts Research and Consulting (RRC) as a sole proprietorship, but later transformed his business into a non-profit organization called the Moral Injury Support Network for Servicewomen, Inc.

One of the primary functions of RRC was to conduct research on the subject of moral injury in women veterans. The current project is a grounded theory study. Dr. Roberts has conducted over a dozen interviews with morally injured women veterans and in nearly every case, sexual assault was a major contributor. Women also experienced emotional and physical injuries through hazing, physical violence, and extreme bigotry. Perpetrators were both peers and supervisors. These women joined the military to serve their country but endured pain and suffering instead.

Life has been difficult for these women. Suicidal ideations, joblessness, homelessness, and isolation are common among participants. Many of them feel abandoned and dismissed by the Veterans Administration, an organization that is supposed to be committed to serving all veterans.

Psychological and spiritual practitioners alike have taken on the problem of moral injury, but Dr. Roberts is the first one to focus solely on women veterans. Dr. Roberts recognized that there was a lack of support for women veterans and worked with others to create the the Moral Injury Support Network for Servicewomen, Inc. (MISNS, pronounced “missions”) to replace Roberts Research and Consulting.

MISNS is a non-profit organization incorporated in North Carolina with the same basic purpose as RRC – help servicewomen recover from moral injury and develop a network of highly qualified and trained spiritual and psychological practitioners who understand what moral injury means for women veterans and how to provide effective, healing care. The Moral Injury Support Network for Servicewomen, Inc.’s founding document states that the organization’s objectives are to:

  1. Educate and train ministers, religious organizations, civic groups, the military chaplaincy, and others on the prevalence, effects, and coping mechanisms of moral injury in servicewomen.
  2. Help woman service members and veterans get soul care, community support, and tangible benefits through the VA and other support providers.
  3. Organize woman veterans and clergy conferences that brings together woman veterans, clergy, and mental health providers for soul care, education, collaboration, and organizing.
  4. Create alliances with organizations that provide help and support to women veterans.
  5. Conduct research to fill in knowledge gaps, provide support for initiatives, and supply information for educational activities.
  6. Develop a donor and sponsorship base that will financially support the conferences and organizational activities.

One of MISNS’ first initiatives was to organize the Women Veterans Military Moral Injury Conferences. The purpose of these events is to bring together women veterans, researchers, mental health professionals, and chaplains to learn about new assessments, treatments, and resources for moral injury, as well as how to assist women veterans in transitioning well into their civilian communities. MISNS teamed up with the Women Veterans Social Justice Network and the first conference will take place in Charleston, SC at the College of Charleston, March 26-27. To learn more, go to the Conference Main Page. You can also find about the the current moral injury research project by going to the Project Page.

Contact:
Dr. Dan Roberts, Conference Chair/Coordinator
Moral Injury Support Network for Servicewomen, Inc.
droberts@chaplainconsultants.com 910-690-5964
or
Dr. Christiane O’Hara
WVSJ Network
christianeohara@wvsj.org or christianeohara@gmail.com
404-538-4470

Conference Partners:
Women Veteran Social Justice Network (non-profit) https://www.facebook.com/4wvsj/
EIN 45-5296843

Moral Injury Support Network for Servicewomen, Inc., EIN 84-3369740 https://chaplainconsultants.com

For Veteran Women, Military Sexual Trauma and Moral Injury are not the Same

Military sexual trauma (MST) comprises a range of harmful experiences, including rape, sexual coercion, attempts at forcible sexual contact, and sexual harassment (Conrad et al., 2014). Estimates vary across studies and the definitions that the Veterans Administration (VA) has used over the years have changed, as well as the Department of Defense’s reporting requirements. Conservative estimates state that 20% of women veterans have experienced military sexual trauma, but that does not fully account for the 80-90% of assaults that go unreported (Conrad et al., 2014). In the moral injury study for women veterans I am co-leading, 80% of participants interviewed so far experienced some form of sexual trauma. One participant, who works to help other veteran women said that pretty much everyone she knows is a sexual assault survivor. 

MST is so prevalent among women who served that it is common for people to equate moral injury in women to MST. They are not synonymous terms. Moral injury refers to the psychological injury that occurs when a traumatic event clashes with a person’s deeply held moral values (Nash et al., 2013). Moral injury research is still in its early stages and there is no agreed-upon list of potentially moral injurious events (MIEs). Currier et al. (2015) identified 20 MIEs in six categories: acts of betrayal, acts of disproportionate violence inflicted on others, incidents involving death or harm to civilians, violence within military ranks, inability to prevent death or suffering, and ethical dilemmas/moral conflicts. Nash et al. (2013) developed a scale that included nine items — six of which involved perceived transgressions by self or others and three items related to betrayal by others. Currier et al.’s (2015) scale included the item, “I was sexually assaulted,” but the instrument by Nash et al. (2013) stuck to more general categories. 

The point is that while many women experience moral injury as a result of a sexual assault, MST is not the only event that causes psychological harm. Our research is generating a new theory of moral injury as it relates to women veterans. We encourage all women who meet the study qualifications to apply. More information can be found on our study website. To participate, you must be a woman between the age of 25 and 70; a retired or discharged uniformed service member with at least five years of service; of the grade of E-5 or above as an enlisted person, W-2 or above as a warrant officer, or O-3 or above as an officer at the time you left the service; not currently working for the Department of Defense as a civilian or contractor; and a witness to, participant in, or the target of any activities by military personnel that created inner conflict or violated your personal moral values.

To generate a complete theory, we need to interview a broad spectrum of women who have experienced a wide array of emotional and psychological traumas. In operations that the U.S. has been involved in in the last 20 years, women have been involved in direct combat action, so we need to gather data from those women who have killed in combat or witnessed combat death or injury. We need to find women who were not sexually assaulted but were the subject of other types of humiliation or attacks by fellow service members. Many women have been outright rejected and disrespected by colleagues or treated as pariahs in their units. I do not know the full extent of the injuries that are out there in the woman veteran population, but that is why we are conducting this study. We need to fill in many gaps in the knowledge base of the moral injury field. If you think you qualify, or know someone who does, please contact me at 910-690-5964 or droberts@chaplainconsultants.com. Sharing your experiences can be difficult, but many women find that the act of sharing is cathartic. 

Dr. Daniel Roberts is an author, consultant, and teacher who conducts world-class education and research in military chaplaincy. He has over 15 years of experience in providing emotional and spiritual support to the men and women in the armed forces. Daniel also provides training and mentorship to thousands of military chaplains through conferences, classroom instruction, and one-on-one coaching. His students include chaplains from the US Army, Air Force, and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Dr. Roberts also helped the CAF develop military doctrine for the deployment of chaplains as religious advisers.

References

Conrad, P. L., Young, C., Hogan, L., Armstrong, M. (2014). Encountering women veterans with military sexual trauma. Perspectives in Psychiatric Care, 50(4), 280-286.

Currier, J. M., Holland, J. M., Drescher, K., & Foy, D. (2013). Initial Psychometric Evaluation of the Moral Injury Questionnaire-Military Version. Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, 22(1), 54–63.

Nash, William P., Marino Carper, T. L., Mills, M. A., Au, T., Goldsmith, A., & Litz, B. T. (2013). Psychometric evaluation of the Moral Injury Events Scale. Military Medicine, 178(6), 646-652. 

Old Memories, Fresh Wounds

Photo by Milada Vigerova on Unsplash

For the last several months, I have been working with a partner to conduct a moral injury study for women veterans. (We are still looking for participants. If you are a female veteran and experienced something while serving that caused inner conflict or went against your moral values, consider signing up: https://chaplainconsultants.com/projects/). Although military sexual trauma is not synonymous with moral injury, rape was a common experience among the women I interviewed. That is very disturbing. What is even more disturbing is that 30 years later, that deep wounding is every bit as sore and fresh as it was when it first happened.

While the men who committed these crimes went unpunished, the women who were their victims spent the rest of their lives in pain. Some of them cannot have the children they desperately wanted due to the physical damage they suffered. Others lost their ability to have an intimate relationship with another person. One woman’s family members disowned her when they found out that she reported the rape to authorities.

It is hard for me to hear these stories. As a caregiver, I want to believe that anything can be healed. But after many years of therapy, some women have experienced little in the way of recovery. True, they are no longer suicidal, but life is not what others would consider normal. 

That is not to say that these women are completely powerless. Many have pursued education as a means of taking back their power. Some are heavily involved in advocacy and social change programs. These survivors want to take their pain and use it to help others. I have profound respect for that.

I cannot give up on the healing process or on these survivors. They have come too far. They have suffered too much for me to stop trying. But I cannot do it alone. More caregivers, especially men, need to come to their aid. Women continue to fight for their freedom from oppression and victimization, but until more male leaders, preachers, and support providers take up their cause, more tragedies will occur. 

One way we are taking on the problem is through the Women Veterans and Clergy Conferences, that will be held in Richmond, VA and Charleson, SC. These meetings will gather women veterans, clergy and caregivers from a wide variety of religious and spiritual perspectives, both men and women, to discuss ways of bringing about change and healing. One important aspect of the events will be veteran storytelling. From behind a protective screen, women will tell their stories so that attendees can get a true sense of how big the problem really is and get motivated to work for change. Also, women told me that voicing their stories was cathartic for them. 

This is not an attempt to commercialize a problem. The conferences are free to attend and are merely a starting point to find new ways to collaborate and build relationships between women veterans and support providers. To find out more, go to: https://chaplainconsultants.com/products-and-services/wvc-conference/.

Dr. Daniel Roberts is an author, consultant, and teacher who conducts world-class education and research in military chaplaincy. He has over 15 years of experience in providing emotional and spiritual support to the men and women in the armed forces. Daniel also provides training and mentorship to thousands of military chaplains through conferences, classroom instruction, and one-on-one coaching. His students include chaplains from the US Army, Air Force, and Canadian Armed Forces (CAF). Dr. Roberts also helped the CAF develop military doctrine for the deployment of chaplains as religious advisers.

Why Male Clergy Need to Understand Moral Injury in Women

Introduction

In the United States, most clergy are male. Approximately 95% of U.S. Army chaplains are men (U.S. Army, 2014) and only 12% of churches have a woman in the senior leadership role (Hartford Institute for Religion Research, 2006). There are many women in institutional ministry (e.g. prison and hospital chaplaincy), but for most women who experience a potentially moral injurious event, their formal religious leader will be a man.

What is Moral Injury?

Moral injury, as it is currently defined, refers to the inner conflict a person feels when his or her sense of moral rightness is violated (Currier, Holland, Drescher, & Foy, 2015a; Currier, McCormick, & Drescher, 2015b; Nash, Carper, Mills, Au, Goldsmith, & Litz, 2013). Moral injury is commonly spoke about in reference to killing in combat, but there are other ways that moral injury can occur. Nash et al. (2013) found that witnessing others’ immoral acts, failing to do something that one feels is right, and experiencing betrayal can all lead to moral injury.

Moral Injury in Women

Much of the research conducted on moral injury has focused on men. Dr. Daniel Roberts of Roberts Research and Consulting and Joann Kovacich, Ph.D. of the University of Phoenix are conducting a study of moral injury in women. They plan to administer 20 or more in-depth interviews with women who served in the Armed Forces. The purpose of the study is to generate a theory of moral injury in women veterans. So far, eight participants have provided over 10 hours of qualitative data.

Preliminary results suggest that military sexual trauma (MST) may be a common context in which moral injury occurs in women. Women also talked about moral injurious events (MIEs) that included witnessing atrocities, betrayal by leaders, being disrespected by subordinates and superior officers, lack of support, and killing in combat. Some of these MIEs were also found by Nash et al. (2013), but MST, disrespect, and lack of support were common themes among women that might not occur as regularly with men.

Women described military experiences that run counter to military ideals. Participants were raped by their commanders, treated with disdain by co-workers, openly disrespected by subordinates, and bullied by leaders. Despite their pain, half of the women stayed in the military and completed full careers. The other half left after a few years and for some of them, their moral injurious experience was a significant factor. For those who stayed in the service, helping other women was a motivator.

What Male Clergy Should Do

Male clergy should be open to the idea that for women, moral injury might entail a different set of circumstances than for men. MST is a common theme among women and the Department of Defense estimates that female service members are seven times more likely to experience sexual assault than men (Department of Defense [DoD], 2018). Gender harassment, disrespect, and bullying were also common themes among participants. Women are four times more likely to experience a hostile work environment related to their gender than men (DoD, 2017).

Male chaplains should examine their own perspectives on equality for women in the military. The role of women in the armed forces continues to be debated in Christian circles. Some denominations reject the notion that women should be allowed to serve in combat jobs (The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod, 2017). As more and more women pour into fields that were previously closed to them, harassment from those who are against such integration could increase. Regardless of how a chaplain feels about combat integration, he or she should be able to provide compassionate care. Understanding one’s own bias related to equality can help prevent weak support if one is inclined towards a more conservative view of women in the military.

Finally, all chaplains should consider additional opportunities for training and dialogue on issues related to women’s experience in military service. One such opportunity is the Women Veterans and Clergy Conferences, being held in April of 2020 in Charleston, SC, and Richmond, VA (https://chaplainconsultants.com/products-and-services/wvc-conference/). These conferences will include both male and female clergy from the military, VA, and civilian circles. The purpose of the conferences is to discuss the latest research on moral injury, learn about healing modalities from a wide variety of perspectives, hear from women veterans who experienced moral injurious events and develop collaborative relationships. Registration is now open for these events and there is no cost to attend (https://forms.gle/eV1epBWrSyYQTPf17). Moral injury research is ongoing. To find out more about the current study, go to: https://chaplainconsultants.com/projects/, or call Daniel Roberts at 910-690-5964.

Roberts Research and Consulting (RRC) is a company that specializes in education, research, and advocacy in military chaplaincy and soldier care. RRC’s research focus is on pastoral support to female service members. Women are an underserved population when it comes to spiritual leadership and support. By conducting studies with female service members as the primary population, RRC is able to develop theories and practices that will enhance the lives of women in the military.

References

Currier, J. M., Holland, J. M., Drescher, K., & Foy, D. (2015a). Initial psychometric evaluation of the Moral Injury Questionnaire-Military Version. Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, 22(1), 54-63. doi:10.1002/cpp.1886

Currier, J. M., McCormick, W., & Drescher, K. D. (2015b). How do morally injurious events occur? A qualitative analysis of perspectives of veterans with PTSD. Traumatology, 21(2), 106-116. doi:10.1037/trm0000027

Department of Defense. (2017). 2016 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members. Retrieved from https://www.sapr.mil/public/docs/reports/FY16_Annual/Annex_1_2016_WGRA_Report.pdf.

Department of Defense. (2018). Appendix B: Statistical Data on Sexual Assault. Retrieved from https://sapr.mil/public/docs/reports/FY17_Annual/Appendix_B_Statistical_Data_on_Sexual_Assault.pdf.

Hartford Institute for Religion Research. (2006). “A quick question: What percentage of pastors are female?” Retrieved from http://hirr.hartsem.edu/research/quick_question3.html.

The Lutheran Church — Missouri Synod. (2017). Women and Military Service: A Lutheran Perspective. Retrieved from https://blogs.lcms.org/2018/ctcr-report-women-and-military-service-a-lutheran-perspective/.

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