The trauma experienced by thousands of veterans has been responsible for the increase in veterans’ suicides, domestic violence and drug abuse. The Veterans Administration has chosen to label this condition as “moral injury”. However, many authorities refer to it as “soul injury”, and the healing process as “soul repair.” This stems from a belief that moral injury might imply wrongdoing and possibly carry unwelcome religious connotations.
Clearwater Monthly Meeting’s experience with the topic of moral/soul injury started in April of this year when we set up a booth in the theatre lobby of a performance called “Telling:Tampa Bay,” which was part of an ongoing series sponsored by the Florida Humanities Council for veterans to tell their stories to their local communities. Our booth had printed literature on moral injury provided by Quaker House and a sign up-sheet for anyone seeking an opportunity to learn more. Even those who had never heard the term recognized what it meant to them and their loved ones. Because of this response, our meeting felt led to raise public awareness of moral injury and reach out to our veterans at the same time.
To prepare ourselves with more information we sought guidance from Quaker sources. The first source was from two Florida monthly meetings, Tampa and Jacksonville, who had already conducted public gatherings on this topic and, of course, Lynn and Steve Newsom from Quaker House. We decided to organize a public forum, called it “An Open Conversation on Moral Injury” and invited Lynn and Steve to Clearwater to give the opening presentation and guide the discussion.
We visualized a safe place where people could learn more about moral injury and share their thoughts and feelings. The conversation needed to include not just veterans, families and friends but also health care professionals, veterans’ service organizations, members of the faith community and concerned citizens. To this end we advertised in local papers and radio stations, posted fliers, called all referrals, emailed, snail mailed and engaged face to face with anyone who would listen.
The result of this effort is still having its effects on our meeting. To our surprise, a comfortable 70 participants filled the seats for the forum, held on June 30th. Not only did Lynn and Steve give a deeply moving, effective and informative presentation, one of the attenders, Deborah Grassman, spontaneously became part of their presentation. Deborah, co-founder of an organization called “Opus Peace” (www.opuspeace.org), has personally worked with over 10,000 dying veterans as a hospice nurse for the VA and brought the perspective of how unresolved trauma resurfaces at the end of life.
The open discussion portion of the program brought participants to tears while listening to stories of pain and grief. Also, there was laughter. Everyone was touched by the open sharing. Although the conversation could have gone longer, it felt important to keep the 90 minute schedule as promised. Nevertheless, attenders lingered afterwards to seek each other out, crying on shoulders, offering support and help all the while expressing their gratitude for this opportunity to be together.
Our mission to create greater awareness about moral injury was now presenting a new challenge as the meeting began questioning what is the next step. How can we bring people together? Where can the soul healing start ? Who is doing this work? In response we decided to try networking with attenders from our conversation who were committed to helping veterans and determine if there were common concerns on the topic.
Our first call was to Deborah Grassman at Opus Peace which is conveniently based in nearby St. Petersburg, Florida. She and co-founder Pat McGuire have gathered a group of dedicated, informed individuals who help veterans and their families with the healing process. Their audience is far reaching as they travel around the United States giving workshops and presentations on soul injury and soul repair. We are encouraged by what they are doing and shall continue following our leading to help bring peace to veterans and their families. We acknowledge the “soul” in moral injury and hope to do more to aid those seeking repair.
—-Eileen Zingaro, Clearwater Friends Monthly Meeting