Commentary

Improving the homecoming for vets

Amy Blumenshine

As people of faith, we take seriously the concepts of moral formation and the well-being of the soul. With moral formation and the cultivation of conscience comes the capacity for empathy, trust, love, gratitude, play, compassion, and inner peace — which also contribute to satisfying relationships. We want to be able to say, “I am a good person. I live among good people” (in a Lutheran saint-and-sinner manner, of course). We want to be able to feel that our inner divine essential connection to God is in good shape.

Most of us believe that it is in our interest, both personally and as a society, to cultivate the above emotions. Accordingly, it follows that we would be concerned if we required other people to harm themselves in these fundamentals. But, some Veterans Affairs psychologists and theologians are showing that a substantial number of U.S. military veterans are suffering from “moral injury.”

While the choice of words may be improved, the concept is that lasting personal harm can occur as a result of doing something, not doing something, or even witnessing something that violates deeply held core beliefs or principles. Some experience an unraveling of character.

One former Marine jokes that he learned to wrestle his conscience to the floor in 30 seconds. A military chaplain blurted out in anguish, “What we are asking service members to do is hurting them, and hurting them deeply.”

Is it well with your soul?

A group of vets, family members of vets, and other civilians who care about them have formed the Coming Home Collaborative in 2005 to involve faith communities in the “coming home” challenges facing veterans and their families. It works to create a safe place to speak truthfully about what military members encounter, seeking to speak the truth that will set everyone free. Vets can speak with pride about their military years even as they share how some of those experiences continue to cause harm to themselves and those they love.

These basic codes of behavior are not imposed from outside but instead relate to the soul’s truth.

Fortunately, not every vet is suffering and experiences moral injury. Unfortunately, there are few places where people of compassion and goodwill come together to hear about the experiences of those who are less fortunate.

One therapist describes engaging in military actions that are contrary to the laws written on one’s heart as “breaking the Geneva Convention of the soul.” These basic codes of behavior are not imposed from outside but instead relate to the soul’s truth.

If you are interested in finding out more about this initiative, a community forum titled “Violating the Geneva Convention of the Soul: Military Moral Injury” will be sponsored on November 17 at 1 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall at Central Lutheran Church, 333 South 12th Street, Minneapolis. The event is sponsored by the Joint Peace with Justice Committee of the Minneapolis Area and St. Paul Area synods. Lunch is available for $7 at 12:30 p.m.

Amy Blumenshine is a diaconal minister in the ELCA and coordinator of the Coming Home Collaborative. She is a member of Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

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