Family Moral injury Veterans

Restorative justice could help military veterans suffering from moral injuries

An article by Pauline Jelinek: War zone killing: Vets feel ‘alone’ in their guilt, describes an ideal area where restorative justice could help.

Jelinek explains “moral injuries” are not the same thing as post-traumatic stress syndrome (PTSD). “Clinicians suspect some troops are suffering from what they call “moral injuries” — wounds from having done something, or failed to stop something, that violates their moral code.

Neal Conan National Public Radio (NPR) commentator sums up the difference between moral injury and PTSD nicely: “Whether you call it battle fatigue or shell shock or PTSD, we’ve come to accept that the trauma of combat can leave profound psychological scars. But how do you describe the damage from actions that violate one’s values, but don’t involve trauma, injury from horrific scenes that betray core moral beliefs?” Conan interviewed Marine Tyler Boudeau, and psychiatrist Jonathan Shay who’s worked with veterans for over 20 years in addressing this important question.

After treating soldiers like Tyler, Shay said he coined the term moral injury “from the story that the great ancient poet Homer tells of Achilles in “The Iliad.” That is the story of moral injury and the terrible consequences of it.”

According to Shay the response to moral injuries does not come in the form of any medical intervention applied by professionals, but instead he says: [R]ecovery happens only in community. And typically, the first community in which that is going to work is the community of fellow veterans.”

Restorative practices are community based processes that address behavior that has harmed others and looks for ways to try and make things right and to repair the harm.

John Braitwaite, one of the world’s most respected restorative justice experts, says that restorative processes are about giving “the stakeholders affected by an injustice an opportunity to tell their stories about its consequences an what needs to be done to put things right…done within a framework of restorative values that include the need to heal the hurts that have been felt (p. vii Restorative Justice and Responsive Regulation). Stakeholders can be anyone harmed including members of the community who do not personally know the person who caused the harm.

While restorative justice is commonly thought of for use in criminal cases, it has vast applications in civil settings. Our work in a variety of settings in Hawai’i and also many other places as discussed in Restorative Justice Today: Practical Applications, shows that face to face meetings are not required for healing.

We have witnessed healing in processes for people whose behavior has hurt others, without those directly hurt participating, and for people who’ve been hurt, who don’t meet with those who hurt them (or who don’t even know who hurt them–most crimes go without any arrests or any perpetrators being identifed).

Restorative justice could also help veterans returning from deployment who are reentering the community. Reentry planning circles that also address restoring relationships with loved ones and the wider community, could help with this transition and also address any moral injuries the soldiers have suffered. The circle could also address any suffering their families have naturally suffered due to the loss of their presence in the home, etc., while the were away.

Thank you Tyler Boudeau, Dr. Shay, Neal Conan and Pauline Jelinek for your efforts.

1 thought on “Restorative justice could help military veterans suffering from moral injuries”

  1. I just started taking graduate courses through the International Institute for Restorative Practices. I am finding I have a strong interest in finding out ways I could use my 25 years experience as an educator and skills I’m beginning to develop with Restorative Justice and Restorative Practice. Your post is the first I have found that I hope will further develop my skills and commitment to our troops. Any suggestions on how to get more involved would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!

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