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The Cultural Development of Moral Repair in US Military Veterans: a Hermeneutic Phenomenology Study Open Access

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Military and political leaders report the U.S. military is experiencing a suicide epidemic. Despite efforts to thwart it, recent evidence shows the suicide rate among military personnel is at its highest since 2012. An emerging area of academic and clinical interest, the study of moral injury and moral repair, offers a fresh and welcomed view into this problem. Moral injury is perhaps best thought of as a spiritual wound or scarring of the soul where deeply held personal beliefs or truths about humanity become undone leading to feelings of guilt, shame, self-condemnation, anger, and betrayal. Left unattended, these feelings lead individuals to lives disconnected and isolated from the social world. Some, perhaps most, never learn how to heal from this type of injury. Instead, they suffer in silence, or worse. Moral injury resulting from combat-related trauma has been suggested as having a mediating role in military service member suicidal behavior, although evidence is just emerging. How veterans heal from moral injury, otherwise known as moral repair, is even less understood and is the focus of this study. Specifically, this qualitative research study seeks to explore the lived experience of moral repair among US military veterans in order to elicit moral repair's cultural form. The study is conducted through a cultural psychological lens rooted in Vygotskian socio-historical theory using Heidegger hermeneutic phenomenology methods providing a means of uncovering the cultural character imbued in the psychological phenomenon. Veterans from the Vietnam War to present combat operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been interviewed. Preliminary results indicate moral repair is developed by reconnecting with the social world through culturally mediated constructive, holistic and integrative activity using one's military identity as a launching point. From a theoretical perspective, examination of moral repair through a cultural psychological lens, one that captures the socio-historical nature of human development, may serve to advance our fundamental understanding of it and assist in developing an operational definition of moral repair for use in further studies. From a practitioner perspective, further insight into the cultural character (e.g. social activities, artifacts, and concepts) elucidated through the lived experience of moral repair among U.S. military veterans may inform military, clinical, religious, and community leaders in developing or updating policies, programs, interventions, and treatments aimed at healing our wounded warriors and in so doing ideally reduce the risk of suicidal behaviors within the military community.

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