Identifying and Addressing Complex War-Related Moral Injury

War-related moral injury comes in two forms; simple and complex. Simple moral injury is transgression unencumbered and unhindered by mental health problems. While a service member may need pastoral care in dealing with simple moral injury – treatment may not be easy, but with some prepping and coaching it is pretty straightforward. On the other hand, complex moral injury, which is more common among returning service members, refers to moral injury that is encumbered with other co-occurring problems. Assessment, treatment and aftercare is more complicated.

Story: The chaplain had just completed the funeral of a service member who committed suicide. As he walked to his car a man approached him and introduced himself as a pastor. He told the chaplain to rest assured that he didn’t need to worry about the service member’s salvation. He went on to say that he personally had led the service member to Christ a couple of months earlier. The soldier had received Christ as his personal Savior, had prayed the ‘sinner’s prayer’, had studied the Bible with him and was praying and reading his Bible before his tragic death. The chaplain listened and thanked him for sharing, but he was also deeply disturbed. He understood that the pastor was doing the only thing he knew. But, he thought, how tragic that the pastor did not know how to identify and address the underlying problems fueling the soldier’s anguished spiritual quest for peace of mind. While the chaplain didn’t share the decision theology perspective of that pastor, he sadly reflected that, with some basic knowledge and skills the pastor might have saved the soldier’s life, spared loved ones from traumatic grief as well as sharing his faith.

Welcome Them Home – Help Them Heal is a basic primer to help chaplains, pastors and caregivers understand and treat complex moral injury.

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