Twice I have almost committed suicide.
Suicide sounds better to me than “kill myself.” And it seems strange to me I would have so much pride about the name of an act which I almost used to run from the rest of my natural life.
I am a veteran and even though I may not have experienced as much as other veterans, I have had to deal with moral injury. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, don’t be surprised.
“Moral injury is the damage done to one’s conscience or moral compass when that person perpetrates, witnesses, or fails to prevent acts that transgress their own moral and ethical values or codes of conduct,” according to Syracuse University’s The Moral Injury Project. It seems shame and guilt are more involved with moral injury than post-traumatic stress (PTS).
Even though I have been in the health field for over 20 years it wasn’t until recently that moral injury came onto my radar. I interviewed Bob Waldrep and Linwood Bragan with Crosswinds Foundation about their documentaries done in conjunction with Front Porch Media.
One, Invisible Scars, is about PTS, and the other, Honoring the Code, is about moral injury. These are free to stream online for veterans and immediate family, can be purchased for a small fee to stream for non-veterans, and are also available by DVD. The website is www.warriorsonmission.org.
Veterans have a higher than average suicide rate compared to the rest of the population. The battles in the mind, spirit, and heart are different for each but are fought too many times without others understanding.
Often they may not talk about these ongoing, unpredictable skirmishes for the same reason they joined the military. They want to protect, guard, and shelter you. They also want to keep you pure from the pollution they feel. And they may also be afraid they won’t be forgiven.
They love you, but you may not believe it judging by their behavior.
Emotional signs and symptoms may include shame, guilt, depression, anxiety, anger, emotional numbness, feeling conflicted, and questioning the meaning of life. Behavioral signs and symptoms may include alcohol and drug misuse, suicidal thoughts, social instability/isolation, difficulty trusting others, re-experiencing the event, avoidance, and sleep disturbances.
Forgiveness is how the healing occurs, according to Waldrep and the experts mentioned in Honoring the Code.
Sometimes that starts with vets sharing their stories with other vets. Bragan shared that in the older wars the vets had time to share their stories and decompress with others as it might take weeks to get home. Now vets can be from war zone to home in days.
But your vet didn’t have to serve in a war zone directly to suffer moral injury. They have seen cases of it and PTS with those who have flown UAV or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles. Their work is done thousands of miles away from the battle.
Your vet may have suffered moral injury just because the training and work are intense, and often time isn’t available to make decisions which can start the cycle of shame and guilt.
King David in the Old Testament ran a gauntlet of breaking commandments, yet was described as a “man after God’s own heart.” (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22) He committed adultery, then brought the husband back from war hoping to hide the fact she was pregnant. But the man didn’t sleep with his wife. Consequently, David sent the man back to the front to hand deliver his own death orders. See 2 Samuel 11 for more.
In Psalm 51, David asks God for forgiveness related to those incidents. He laments in verse 3, “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.” Verse 4 has always shocked me by saying, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight…”
How can that be since the sin David committed affected Bathsheba, her husband Uriah, the baby fathered by David, Joab the commander who pulled the troops away from Uriah, and the troops who followed the orders written by King David?
Yet David said it was against God and God alone that he had sinned?
Hebrews 10:31 says it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. While David didn’t know about that book from the New Testament, he did know the living God. So he put his hope and faith in him.
1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” God is faithful to His Word which says there is no condemnation to those in Christ (Romans 8:1), and He is just by letting our sins fall on Christ. And by Christ’s wounds we are healed (1 Peter 2:21-25).
Forgiveness can come from anyone the person believes has the moral authority to forgive, says Waldrep. However, when you understand the authority of God expressed through the Bible, true forgiveness comes not by the power or strength of any except God.
“Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words,” from Romans 8:26 helped me greatly.
In Psalm 51:10-11 David calls out to God, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.”
For those suffering from moral injury who come to realize they need help even if they don’t know exactly what is wrong, Jesus calls out in Matthew 11: 28-30, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
If you don’t know Jesus and how He’s willing to accept the full wrath of God for any sins we have committed, then here’s where you can find out more: www.peacewithGod.net.
Additional Resources Not Mentioned in the Article:
https://www.veteranscrisisline.net/get-help/chat Or call 1-800-273-8255 (then press 1). Available 24/7 I called at about 5:42 a.m. to check the activity. It just took a minute or so to reach someone, Joe, 62, in New York. Joe, also a vet, asked me to share they help with more than you may think, including helping direct people with emotional distress dealing with finances or a variety of changes which challenge vets. He encouraged you if you know “something's wrong,” but you aren’t sure what, then call. You’ll be directed to one of three centers New York, Atlanta, or Topeka based on availability. To Joe and the others working there…thank you.
www.realwarriors.net This site compiles information from various websites, including the one above, the Veterans Administration, and others to offer more insight and help for active duty soldiers, guard and reserves, veterans, families, and health professionals.