Tuesday, January 22, 2013

MORAL INJURY




The words, MORAL INJURY, just the words, the title of an article in Newsweek, hit me hard. This photograph was spread across two pages. The lead-in words by senior reporter, Tony Dokoupill, hit me even harder.

"Soldiers are supposed to be tough, cool, and ethically confident. But what happens when they have seen and done things that haunt their consciences? New studies suggest that the pain of guilt may be a key factor in the rise of PTSD."

Reading, I wended my way through what the Department of Veteran Affairs said about PTSD, what Defense Secretary Leon Panetta recently told Congress about ailing veterans, what distinguished psychiatrists, clinicians, and researchers have reported, and how the idea evolved -- that Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is the result of Moral Injury.

What is moral injury?

Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, as well as other former soldiers and high-level officers have shuttled between two worlds -- ours, where thou shalt not kill is part of everyday life -- another world where you kill, or you will be killed.

Put yourself in that photo -- feel it, see it, be there with those who have been there, fighting -- killing -- so that they they themselves, or their buddies, won't be killed.

Yes, oh yes indeed, the article logically reminded the reader that moral injury is as old as war -- it's in the "Iliad," the "Odyssey," and in the oldest surviving play of Sophocles, "Ajax." Also, I know from books I've read that have brought tears to my eyes, it's in the private thoughts of soldiers -- their journals and what they're managed to write and get published.

It's said in different ways -- killing violates your soul, killing is a sin against yourself, killing is profoundly, deeply wrong.

Words, words, words ... I'm not a solider, never have been, never had to fight for my country. I haven't had to punch, kick, slam, tangle, or wrestle with another human, or choke, stab, shoot, or do anything violent to another human being, in order survive.

Okay, when I was very young I saw my sister kill a cat -- bang it on the head with a shovel. She never told me why she did it. Later I experienced schoolmates turning against me -- they beat me up, calling me "Christ killer." I have never recovered from that. When Hitler was defeated, and people wanted him punished -- tortured to death -- I rejected the idea. When Saddam Hussein was on his way to the gallows, for me it was unbearably wrong, the way he was treated before he was hanged.

What I think about this seems -- even to me -- not trivial, but not as horrifying, as WRONG, as having to kill when you're fighting a war.

The fact is, more than 30 percent of the 834,463 Iraq and Afghanistan War veterans, (247, 243 ), who have been treated at V.A. hospitals and clinics, have been diagnosed with PTSD.

Currently every month close to 1,000 vets attempt to take their own lives. That’s about three attempts every 90 minutes.

“It’s an epidemic,” Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta told congress this summer. “Something is wrong.”

I put these words on this page so that if there's a way we can help the men and women suffering post traumatic stress, you and I will help them.

Yes, yes, yes -- for me, no matter what was threatened, I could not kill someone.

Could you?
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