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Center wants to expand understanding of 'moral injury' to audience beyond military

November 8, 2017

ASU's Center on Future of War to host event on condition, a debilitating injury resulting from violation of sense of right and wrong

Last year the Center on the Future of War announced Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Wood as an ASU Future of War Senior Fellow at New America, who introduced the term “moral injury” to the public lexicon through his 2016 book, “What Have We Done: The Moral Injury of Our Longest Wars.”

This year the center is taking it a step further by making the term — which means a violation of one’s sense of right or wrong in battlefield conflicts or military environments — the focus of an international conference next week.

Moral Injury: Toward an Internal Perspective” takes place in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 13 and will feature deans, directors, lecturers and experts from the United States, England and Australia, all in an effort to deepen their capacity to make sense of the experience of armed conflict.

To give more clarity to this issue and what the conference will cover, ASU Now turned to Daniel Rothenberg, a professor of practice who co-directs the center with CNN senior analyst and ASU faculty member Peter Bergen.

Question: How do moral injury and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) differ? They seem similar.

Answer: Moral injury differs from PTSD in that it isn't associated with a physical trauma but is rather a debilitating psychological or spiritual injury resulting from the transgression of deeply held moral beliefs and expectations. Importantly, the therapies that have been developed for PTSD generally do not appear to work for moral injury, which in itself is a good reason to understand the differences between the two conditions.  

Understanding the differences is complicated by the fact that occasionally the same incident gives rise to both conditions, making both treatment and diagnosis difficult. In many cases, however, moral injury often arises from a long sequence of events or experiences that do not give rise to PTSD symptoms. All this taken into account, however, it is still the case that moral injury is still being researched and defined. 

Man in beige suit
Daniel Rothenberg

Q: What is your hope with this conference?

A: We hope our conference will build upon David Wood's book; indeed, he helpfully provided a chapter for the report, “Moral Injury: Towards an International Perspective,” that we are releasing at our Nov. 13 conference. Because moral injury is so destructive of veterans, their families, and the communities that support them, we hope that our ongoing focus on this category of injury will encourage continued progress in the identification and treatment of individuals who may have suffered such an injury.  

In addition, this conference and our report both introduce for the first time an explicit multicultural approach to moral injury, which we think is a substantial contribution to research, analysis and mitigation in this area. That's because the conference and the report are products of the PLuS Alliance, which includes ASU, University of New South Wales and King's College London.

Q: In addition to military personnel, you are making an attempt to introduce the term to medical and health-care workers, theologians, journalists and uninformed personnel and peacekeepers in other parts of the world. Why is it important for them to understand the term going forward?

A: Moral injury as we are approaching it often occurs on the battlefield, but its effects are more frequently felt upon the return of the injured warrior to his or her family, and community, and they can last for many years, even many decades, as experience with Vietnam War veterans shows. 

Moreover, the phenomenon is a complex one and extends beyond the boundary of any single domain, and treatment may well involve not just traditional health-care workers, but spiritual and theological leaders, and even the community as a whole. This explains the broad collection of disciplines and discourses that we are encouraging to coalesce into a community of practitioners who can effectively address the many ways in which moral injury may be expressed.

Q: What will be some of the highlights of this conference?

A: Among the highlights will be the video presentation of Dr. Michael Crow, who will discuss the importance of addressing moral injury, and the particular strengths that the PLuS Alliance brings to such a complex task. The panel that forms the core of the conference includes a number of luminaries in this growing field, including David Wood, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting on moral injury in 2012 and the 2017 Dayton Literary Peace Prize for Nonfiction for his book on the topic; Ed Barrett, director of research at the U.S. Naval Academy's Stockdale Center for Ethical Leadership; William P. Nash, director of psychological health, United States Marine Corps; and Brad Allenby, Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics and President's Professor, at ASU.  

Q: What is the center’s ultimate hope when it comes to use and understanding of moral injury?

A: We hope that the Moral Injury Initiative, which will be under the Center on the Future of War, will become an important contributor to better understanding moral injury, and to identifying ways in which it can be prevented, and treated when it does occur.  

 

Top photo courtesy of Pixabay

Reporter , ASU Now

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Veterans Upward Bound helps vets connect with college opportunities — and with one another

VUB program helps veterans gain skills, walks them through college application.
November 8, 2017

ASU program's Department of Education grant renewed for 44th straight year

Arizona State University’s TRIO Veterans Upward Bound (VUB), a free college-preparatory program aimed at veterans who are either low-income or potential first-generation college students, has been awarded federal funding for the 44th year in a row.

VUB’s mission is to motivate, assist and support veterans in Maricopa County in their pursuit of higher education — or, in the case of 75-year-old Army veteran George “Sweet Erv” Campbell, simply their pursuit of knowledge and camaraderie.

“You get to hang out with people that you know. If you’ve ever been in the military, you’d understand,” said Campbell (pictured above, left), who was attached to the Air Force and worked with the Nike Hercules missile system before leaving the service in 1964. “They call it esprit de corps. Once you’re in the military, you understand others who’ve been in it. There’s a common bond.”

The VUB program — which is freeThe program is supported by the U.S. Department of Education. for participants and has services on four of ASU’s campuses — offers individualized online courses and academic coaching; one-on-one sessions focused on skills including goal setting and financial literacy; assistance with the admissions process (whether to ASU or other colleges); and continued support throughout their academic career, even after they’ve left the program. There are also such activities as attending a Broadway show at ASU Gammage and going to a football game.

During the new grant cycle, veterans in Pinal County will also have the opportunity to participate in VUB annually. The program will provide service to approximately 140 college-bound/interested veterans; there are 30 people in the program currently.

VUB “offers veterans an excellent opportunity to learn how to transfer their military skills into higher education,” said VUB director Verónica Hernández. “Moreover, the program provides veterans step-by-step guidance and a vital support system in their college success and accomplishments.”

The instruction is tailored to the participant’s needs. It can include specific subjects like math and English, or broader topics like computer skills. The latter is the case for Campbell.

“We didn’t have computers back in my day — back in the ’50s … I think it’s fascinating, and I personally think it’s great,” he said. “Computer skills — if you don’t know anything about that, you don’t know what you’ve lost.”

Campbell, whose plans are to eventually attend photography classes at South Mountain Community College, is putting those computer skills to work. He has a handful of Facebook pages, as well as a collection of YouTube channels and a Twitter account.

Participants in the ASU Veterans Upward Bound program talk after a workshop
TRIO Veterans Upward Bound participants George “Sweet Erv” Campbell (left) and Terry Henry chat after a VUB session at ASU's Tempe campus. Photo by Aaron Gould

The length of the program varies depending on the participant. It’s based on individuals’ needs and what they need to move to the next step in their education pursuit.

VUB participant Chris Bilandzija, who served in the Coast Guard until 2004, will start at ASU this January pursuing a degree in social work. In addition to supplementing his math and English skills, he said the program gave him the “confidence of being a successful student.”

“They walk you through every step of the process of getting back into ASU,” he said, adding, “They know how to teach veterans. They understand it; they get it.”

Since 1973, VUB has yielded impressive results. Participants have demonstrated a 70 percent improvement on standardized tests, compared with a 58 percent national average; and more than 55 percent enroll in a postsecondary program within a year of completing VUB, according to its staff.

For Campbell, he has just one complaint about the program:

“You’re a little late — you should’ve had it in ’64 when I got out of the service.”

Learn more about the program here.

 

Top photo: Veterans Upward Bound participants George “Sweet Erv” Campbell (left) and Domonic Colonna take part in a skills training workshop. Photo by Aaron Gould