October 16, 2013
By Spc. Aaron Breitbarth
It's not a Christian injury. It's not a Muslim injury. It's not a Buddhist injury. It's a moral injury.
That was one of the key points that Chaplain (Capt.) Jonathan Entrekin expressed recently to combat Veterans during the "Back Into the Light" seminar at the Chambers Bay Golf Course near Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Wash. The seminar dealt with difficulties Soldiers often experience when re-entering their communities after they've experienced a moral injury, which occurs when a person either does something, or is exposed to something they believe is morally wrong, or experiences betrayal by those they believed were always "right," said Entrekin.
Entrekin stated that moral injury is often misdiagnosed as post-traumatic stress disorder. They can have similar looking symptoms, but they are different injuries.
"If Soldiers have experienced, 'Hey, I've been treated for a year by a counselor or a psychologist about a troubling episode and it just doesn't seem to be helping,' it's possible if you examine this, it's not just a trauma, it's a moral injury. What your soul may really need to heal is to hear from the voice of someone you hold as a moral authority, one that you recognize, because each (Soldier) comes from a different place," said Entrekin.
He explained that when certain actions are taken or witnessed, it is necessary for someone from within a similar moral framework as that Soldier to re-admit a Soldier into the community, which will often be a faith-based community. This person is referred to as a moral authority. The moral authority has the voice the Soldier needs to "recognize, forgive, and restore" the Soldier and welcome him back as he is to the community.
According to Entrekin, moral injuries transcend faith or religion. A person's moral framework comes from how they are taught to perceive right and wrong -- whether that be from the church or even if that's "grandma" who raised them since childhood.
He stated that this training event was very new. "It was only in 2009 that folks who treat Veterans started coining the term 'moral injury'," explained Entrekin. "The concept of moral injury is centuries old, but the talk that is going on right now is still in its infancy."
Entrekin recognized that this training can help Soldiers because of his work at Joint Base Lewis-McChord and his time deployed. Entrekin himself admits to dealing with the effects of moral injury.
"I've been able to recognize moral injury that I've suffered or from things that I've experienced, things that I saw … There was some guilt, some shame, some embarrassment; other times there was anger -- anger at God, anger at the authority, anger at command," said Entrekin.
"With people who have suffered moral injury, anger, guilt and shame are present. Trust is missing, or it's expressed in reverse by doubt," Entrekin said. "That's one of the major differences between moral injury and PTSD. PTSD is recognized by a feeling of a lack of safety by the Soldier. Moral injury shows itself by a feeling of lack of trust. They can be closely related, even existing side-by-side. But they are different and must be dealt with differently."
One of the goals of the seminar was for Soldiers to recognize these feelings within themselves. The seminar also addressed many situations during which a Soldier thinks, "I'm different than everybody else here and I will never fit back in," said Entrekin.
Entrekin also explained that some Soldiers find it difficult to re-integrate into their moral communities due to taking medications that make them lethargic, making a church service or social gathering hard to attend properly. The seminar also addressed Soldiers with behavioral health conditions and physical injuries that make re-entering a community uncomfortable. "It can be hard for someone with a wounded back to sit on a wooden pew for an hour. But if the combat Veteran recognizes that, it can make them feel even more different from the others in the group. This becomes an additional barrier to rejoining the community," said Entrekin.
"The goal is to change the way Soldiers feel about this change," he said. He hopes to continue giving this seminar and to adjust it so that it may be taught to military Chaplains and civilian clergy in the near future.
"This is the first time to my knowledge that anyone has done this kind of training," Entrekin said. The "Back Into the Light" seminar was created to help Soldiers, caregivers, supervisors and civilian clergy notice when events weigh on a Soldier's conscience or soul, based on their moral upbringing.