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Moral Injury

Each week, LA Progressive’s editors pick what they regard as a particularly insightful comment from one of our readers, both to draw attention to one particular reader’s thoughts and to encourage more readers to weigh in with their opinions. This week’s pithy "Feedback Friday" response comes from regular LA Progressive editor, Dick Price, who commented on the article by Arnold R. Isaacs, "Moral Injury and America’s Endless Conflicts: A Legacy of a New Kind of War."

A dozen or so years after my stint as an infantryman in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, I found myself running a halfway house for alcoholic and drug addicted men in a Los Angeles blue collar suburb.

I had gotten sober a few years earlier myself and was so grateful to have found a solution the ineffable troubles I had been having since my teenage years – and which had led me to sign up for Vietnam as one of a long series of efforts to straighten up and fly right.

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As a recent veteran, other AA members would frequently bring newcomer Vietnam veterans to me, if for no other reason than to show them that sobriety was within their reach and wasn’t nearly as onerous as they feared.

Also, as an agnostic, I figured I better lean heavily on the service aspects of AA recovery, as the faith part largely eluded me. My higher power had to be the spiritual support I got from the people around me, as I had left whatever faith I might have had in a god somewhere in the rice paddies and woodlines of Vietnam.

Anyway, as a recent veteran, other AA members would frequently bring newcomer Vietnam veterans to me, if for no other reason than to show them that sobriety was within their reach and wasn’t nearly as onerous as they feared. That was especially true for the halfway house I ran for a couple years – sort of us my stint in the Peace Corps.

But it always troubled me that the veterans I met so rarely stayed sober and, if they did, so often seemed so morbidly depressed. (I had been depressed, too, but five years of daily prayers to a god I didn’t understand lifted that load – that and all the service work I did and the fact I was getting on with my life.)

Then and in the years since, I wondered if these other veterans who chose to drink and die had perhaps seen things or done things I hadn’t done in Vietnam. Nick Turse’s book, “Kill Anything That Moves” confirmed some of those suspicions. I wonder if the 22 veterans who kill themselves everyday suffer from moral injury, at least some of them.

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