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Military Matters: Moral Injury: A Brief Overview

Stephanie Ellickson-Larew, PhD, and Brett T. Litz, PhD

June 1, 2019

Unlike single-incident civilian traumatic stress contexts, military combatants are at risk for exposure to a variety of distinct, potentially traumatic harms over a long period of time, all of which occur in a unique occupational, cultural and highly moral context. In general, there are three broad types of potentially traumatizing experiences that service members may face in combat, each associated with unique phenomenological, psychological, biological, social and spiritual impacts. These are life threats (e.g., exposure to lethal force or its aftermath), traumatic losses (e.g., death of comrades or leaders) and high-stakes moral transgressions (e.g., killing, maiming). In this article, we briefly review the parameters of transgressive events and the outcomes associated with high-stakes military transgressions, otherwise known as moral injury (MI).

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