Helping Those Struggling with Moral Injuries

Iraq_20Veteran_20-_203-card.jpgVolunteers of America Partners with Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation

ALEXANDRIA, Va., July 25, 2017 – Volunteers of America, a national leader in providing supportive services to the nation’s most vulnerable people, has partnered with the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation to better understand and treat the effects of “moral injury” suffered by American veterans and others who have experienced life-changing trauma.

In support of this effort, the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation recently invested almost $1 million to help Volunteers of America establish the “Spiritual Resilience Training Program,” part of a growing variety of recovery services provided by the organization to combat moral injury.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs defines moral injury as “a syndrome of shame, self-handicapping, anger and demoralization” resulting from experiences that challenge “deeply held beliefs and expectations about moral and ethical conduct.” Experiences include such acts as “killing, perpetration of violence, betrayals of trust in leaders, witnessing depraved behavior, or failing to prevent serious unethical acts.” While moral injury often is observed in veterans returning from combat, it can affect anyone who has endured extreme trauma, including crime victims and caregivers for the sick or dying.

“Unlike post-traumatic stress, moral injury is not a fear-based disorder,” said Rita N. Brock, Ph.D., who leads Volunteers of America’s moral injury efforts. “Its social and behavioral impact reflects an inner struggle to integrate experiences that challenge personal interpretations of right and wrong, and manifests with unique negative moral emotions such as guilt, shame, despair, grief, remorse, alienation, betrayal, self-condemnation and outrage against leaders or oneself.”

Volunteers of America’s Spiritual Resiliency Training (SRT) Program is designed to support recovery from moral injury via a peer-facilitated, multi-dimensional group process. The program focuses on confronting moral suffering, exploring forgiveness and gratitude, restoring faith and purpose to life, increasing self-acceptance and awareness of each person’s core humanity, and civic engagement through public service. The SRT program will help strengthen the resiliency of veteran participants and lower indicators of moral injury distress such as suicidal thoughts, substance abuse and homelessness. By reducing isolation through establishing trusted relationships among veterans, the program will help participants sustain long-term recovery and reintegrate more successfully into civilian life.

”We strongly believe in the importance of treating the unseen wounds that affect our service men and women and may impede their reintegration into society,” said John Damonti, president of the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation. “By addressing moral injury through community-based programs, we hope to strengthen the resiliency of our veterans so they many continue to lead healthy and productive lives.”

Following the start of SRT program planning and design work in March 2017, the effort will be piloted by Volunteers of America affiliates in Los Angeles and New York, which already offer a myriad of services to veterans and their families that address homelessness, unemployment, lack of education, traumatic brain injury, substance abuse and mental health challenges.

Learn more about moral injury and Volunteers of America’s vision for serving veterans and others struggling with this condition.

About Volunteers of America

Volunteers of America is a national, nonprofit, faith-based organization dedicated to helping those in need live healthy, safe and productive lives. Since 1896, our ministry of service has supported and empowered America's most vulnerable groups, including veterans, seniors, people with disabilities, at-risk youth, men and women returning from prison, homeless individuals and families, those recovering from addictions and many others. Through hundreds of human service programs, including housing and health care, Volunteers of America helps more than 1.4 million people in over 400 communities. We offer a variety of services for older Americans, in particular, that allow them to maintain their independence and quality of life – everything from an occasional helping hand to full-time care. Our work touches the mind, body, heart and ultimately the spirit of those we serve, integrating our deep compassion with highly effective programs and services. Learn more about our moral injury focus area.

About the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation

The Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation is committed to improving the health outcomes of populations disproportionately affected by serious diseases by strengthening healthcare worker capacity, integrating medical care and community-based supportive services, and addressing unmet medical need. The Foundation engages partners to develop, execute, evaluate and promote innovative programs to help patients with lung cancer and removing barriers to accessing care in the United States, HIV and comorbid diseases such as cervical and breast cancers and tuberculosis in sub-Saharan Africa, hepatitis B and C in China and India, and veterans’ mental health and well-being in the U.S. For more information about the Bristol-Myers Squibb Foundation, visit