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Monday, August 1, 2016

A Review of Research on Moral Injury in Combat Veterans

Sheila Frankfurt and Patricia Frazier
Military Psychology


The moral injury construct has been proposed to describe the suffering some veterans experience when they engage in acts during combat that violate their beliefs about their own goodness or the goodness of the world. These experiences are labeled transgressive acts to identify them as potentially traumatic experiences distinct from the fear-based traumas associated with posttraumatic stress disorder. The goal of this article was to review empirical and clinical data relevant to transgressive acts and moral injury, to identify gaps in the literature, and to encourage future research and interventions. We reviewed literature on 3 broad arms of the moral injury model proposed by Litz and colleagues (2009): (a) the definition, prevalence, and potential correlates of transgressive acts (e.g., military training and leadership, combat exposure, and personality), (b) the relations between transgressive acts and the moral injury syndrome (e.g., self-handicapping, self-injury, demoralization), and (c) some of the proposed mechanisms of moral injury genesis (e.g., shame, guilt, social withdrawal, and self-condemnation). We conclude with recommendations for future research for veterans suffering with moral injury.

Combat can require individuals to violate their consciences repeatedly. For several decades, clinicians have noted the psychological impact on veterans of engaging in killing, committing atrocities, and violating the rules of engagement (Haley, 1974). Despite this clinical attention, most psychological research on veterans' war wounds has focused on post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD; American Psychiatric Association, 2013), a fear-based disorder that results from exposure to life-threatening events, rather than on the consequences of active participation in warfare.

The moral injury syndrome was proposed to describe the constellation of shame and guilt based disturbances that some combat veterans experience after engaging in wartime acts of commission (e.g., killing) or omission (e.g., failing to prevent atrocities; Litz et al., 2009). The moral injury syndrome was proposed to be constituted of the PTSD symptoms of intrusive memories, emotional numbing, and avoidance, along with collateral effects such as self-injury, demoralization, and self-handicapping (Litz et al., 2009).

The article is here.