Last Updated on April 13, 2023 by OCF Communications

Episode 014 show notes

Today’s story of military life at the intersection of faith, family, and profession deals with the topic of moral injury. For those not familiar with moral injury, while it is similar to PTSD in some ways, it is very much a different type of psychological trauma.

The National Center for PTSD defines moral injury this way: “Moral injury is a construct that describes extreme and unprecedented life experience including the harmful aftermath of exposure to such events. [These] events are considered morally injurious if they ‘transgress deeply held moral beliefs and expectations.’ Thus, the key precondition for moral injury is an act of transgression, which shatters moral and ethical expectations that are rooted in religious or spiritual beliefs, or culture-based, organizational, and group-based rules about fairness, the value of life, and so forth.”

The site goes on to share a couple examples of types of moral injury—the first of which might stem from an unintentional error that leads to the loss of life of non-combatants, and the second type is a result of transgressive acts of others. In this instance, service members can be morally injured by the transgression of peers and leaders who betray expectations in egregious ways.

Recently, former OCF director of field operations LTC Tom Schmidt, USA (Ret.), sat down with COL Dave Batchelor, USA (Ret.), in the faculty lounge of the US Army Command and General Staff College, where COL Batchelor shared the candid story of his personal struggle with moral injury.

Episode outline

  • 3:55, More about COL Batchelor.
  • 5:42, Why the subject of moral injury is so important; COL Batchelor shares some of his personal experiences, particularly from his time in Iraq.
  • 6:35, COL Batchelor shares further detail about his experience in Iraq in 2005.
  • 8:56, COL Batchelor talks about his desire to protect his soldiers and how a lack of response to their request for help affected him.
  • 9:55, A discussion of the “themis.”

The term moral injury seems to have been introduced by Jonathan Shay in Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994). Shay defines moral injury as a violation of themis, a term he borrows from the ancient Greeks. As Shay uses the term, themis means what’s right, proper, and customary. It is the mark of civilized existence. (—from

  • 10:41, Understanding root causes of PTSD vs moral injury.
  • 12:34, COL Batchelor talks about the core values of his life that were violated, resulting in a moral injury.
  • 14:58, COL Batchelor details a specific experience from combat in Iraq.
  • 18:55, An event that reinforced the impact of that experience.
  • 20:16, The role of one’s theology in moral injury.
  • 22:48, The Don Quixote syndrome.
  • 24:36, How the moral injury manifests even in life outside of uniform.
  • 26:31, Why the difference between PTSD and moral injury is important.
  • 28:34, The Combat Trauma Healing Manual as an aid.
  • 29:11, Not everyone is willing to distinguish among the various types of trauma.
  • 31:01, Things that have helped COL Batchelor deal with his moral injury, the first being self-awareness.
  • 32:30, The second help is prayer and Scripture, specifically, John 10:10 and Galatians 5:1 are verses that have helped him.
  • 33:27, The third thing he did was to get help—talk to somebody about his moral injury.
  • 34:08, How his sister challenged him.
  • 36:10, Encouragement for those struggling with a moral injury.
  • 37:27, Resources: Achilles in Vietnam, by Jonathan Shay; National Center For PTSD; and article from Duke University (PDF).
  • 39:11, Final thoughts and comments to loved ones of those suffering from a moral injury.

If you or someone you know may be struggling with a moral injury, we encourage you to seek out help today. If you’d like us to pray for you, you can send a confidential prayer request either via email to [email protected] or through our website.

Until next time, remember the words of David from Psalm 16:8… “I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Amen.

About OCF Crosspoint

OCF Crosspoint is a podcast produced by Officers' Christian Fellowship and is dedicated to sharing stories of military life at the intersection of faith, family, and profession.

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