The Moral Injury of War: Using ‘Soul Repair’ to Prevent Veteran Suicides

The difficult process of repairing a soldier’s moral conscience begins with a societal approach to compassionate care—a commitment to addressing war veterans’ moral anguish as well as PTSD.

| March 2013

  • Soul Repair
    In “Soul Repair,” Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lettini tell the stories of four veterans of wars from Vietnam to our current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan—Camillo “Mac” Bica, Herman Keizer Jr., Pamela Lightsey, and Camilo Mejía—who reveal their experiences of moral injury from war and how they have learned to live with it. Brock and Lettini also explore combat effect on families and communities, and the community processes that have gradually helped soldiers with their moral injuries.
    Cover Courtesy Beacon Press

  • Soul Repair

Soul Repair (Beacon Press, 2012) aims to help veterans, their families, members of their communities, and clergy understand the impact of war on the consciences of healthy people, support the recovery of moral conscience in society, and restore veterans to civilian life. When a society sends people off to war, it must accept responsibility for returning them home to peace. The following excerpt of the book’s introduction describes moral injury as a growing problem that’s sadly not being sufficiently addressed by today’s society. 

After we send men and women off to war, how do we bring them home to peace?

Obviously distraught, the three people huddled, whispering to each other while they waited patiently at the end of a long line that had formed after Rita’s lecture on moral injury in Houston, Texas. When the two women and the man finally reached her, they said they were from a United Methodist Church. Their words tumbled out on top of each other:

“You don’t know how much your lecture meant to us . . . We didn’t know how to help him . . . The suicide was such a shock . . . The whole church is heartbroken . . . We wish we had known about moral injury . . . It makes so much sense . . . Maybe we could have helped him.” 

The group’s distress was raw and urgent. Their description was disjointed, as if their jumbled memories had not come into focus. When they realized that Rita was puzzled, they filled in some of the details. They explained that the suicide of a young veteran, deeply beloved in their church, was unexpected. The whole church community was reeling and struggling to understand how it had failed him. He was a hero to so many, they said, that the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) had sent crisis counselors to a national gathering of veterans meeting at the time of the suicide. After the group explained the impact of the suicide on them and their community, one of the women said, “We want to learn more about moral injury. Our community needs this information. We couldn’t save Clay, but maybe we can help save others.”

Within days of Rita’s lecture in April 2011, national media sources reported Clay Warren Hunt’s story. He was a twenty-eight-year-old former marine corporal who earned a Purple Heart serving in Iraq and Afghanistan. He had been active in a suicide-prevention program for vets. Since 2009, he had been a model to other veterans of a successful return home. He married and started college in California; he advocated for veterans’ rights and worked in disaster relief. He was being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Then, his marriage ended, he left school, went into treatment for depression, and returned to Houston where he got a job and an apartment in Sugar Land, Texas. On March 31, 2011, he bolted himself in that apartment and shot himself. Over a thousand people attended his funeral.

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