What happens to soldiers’ hearts when they return home from the battlefield? Recent research suggests that Veterans, especially Vietnam Veterans with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are at a higher risk for heart disease. Veterans who have experienced the atrocities of war also are at great risk of being morally wounded.
While PTSD and moral injury are often connected, they arise from very different sources and have different symptoms. During deployment, Veterans can be placed in military situations that severely compromise and violate their moral code of values. Soldiers must kill to survive and often innocent civilian are harmed during conflict battles.
Unfortunately, treatment for soul repair from moral injury is not always available due to limited services, lack of information about the problem, lack of clinician understanding and indecision about the best treatment. Reconciliation around moral injury issues can be healing when the Veteran can safely explore deep emotions with a supporting community.
“You are either numb or embrace your entire emotional experience. You can’t unfreeze half an ice cube.”
This month a group of Veterans, VA providers, and academics met in Vietnam for a spiritual pilgrimage to process recovering from the Vietnam War. The team traveled from the United States with the non-profit organization Soldier’s Heart (http://www.soldiersheart.net).
The tour guide, Song, was a South Vietnamese soldier who was imprisoned for 2½ years and who was the bridge to translate the war experience between the Americans and the Vietnamese. Their reasons for voluntarily committing 16 days of travel varied, but