The return to everyday life is not a particularly easy transition for the men and women serving in the United States military, and it's certainly not easy for those who return from the arena of combat. That's where the work of the Rev. Dr. Rita Nakashima Brock comes in, by helping educate people on any "moral injury" that may afflict veterans.
"It's our social responsibility as people who live in this land to make their return as effective and life-giving as possible," Brock said during a seminar Friday, Feb. 22 at the national offices of the United Church of Christ in Cleveland. Brock's visit was to speak to national staff, seminary leaders, and area congregations about training people on how best to welcome veterans on their return home.
Brock is a well-known theologian and writer on the faculty of Brite Divinity School in Fort Worth, and is co-director of the school's Soul Repair Center. Although moral injury can occur in numerous settings, the current focus of the center is on the spiritual and pastoral care of veterans.
Moral injury is a psychological issue and a moral issue where an individual can distinguish from right and wrong, but is conflicted by an immoral action that they might be required to do. Some scenarios Brock gave are a soldier who harms an armed woman or child to save the lives of others, torturing a detainee during an interrogation for sensitive information, or feeling guilty about surviving a scenario when other members of the unit were killed.
"It's not a psychological problem. It's a moral issue," Brock said.
Recently, moral injury has been addressed either incorrectly or inadequately because it is confused with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Brock explained that PTSD is a reaction to conditions that cause actual damage to brain tissue. "It is a disorder in the brain," she said.
The Soul Repair Center, launched in November, supports recovery from moral injury that a person may encounter. The center's work on treating moral injury has four parts: research and study, development of curricula for recovery, development of recovery programs, and regional training for partner organizations.
"It doesn't go away. You have to learn to live with the memory," Brock said. "That's why we call it 'recovery' and not 'healing.'"
The Rev. Mike Neuroth, the UCC's policy advocate for international issues in Washington, D.C., has worked with Brock to widen the awareness of moral injury, and hopes people across the church take advantage of learning opportunities.
"The United Church of Christ [and] Justice and Witness Ministries recognize the importance of deepening our national understanding of moral injury and soul repair — particularly at a time when military suicides outnumber combat deaths in Afghanistan," Neuroth said. "UCC members and leaders have been outspoken in support of this work as a reflection of our witness as a Just Peace Church."
Brock has been encouraged by the level of cooperation between the Soul Repair Center and the Department of Veterans Affairs, which sees the research and training as helpful to returning soldiers to the open world, compared with the very closed and regimented world of military life.
"It is hard for them," Brock said. "If you had a family and kids, they know you as a person who left. But you may not return as that same person."