FARMINGTON — A moral injury, a wound of the soul, most often occurs in military personnel who fight in a war zone, the Rev. Peter E. Bauer of San Antonio, Texas, told participants at the Bringing Worlds Together conference Saturday.

Bauer was an Army/Navy chaplain for 28 years and ordained minister for 37 years. He is a licensed clinical social worker, licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed chemical dependency counselor. He works for the Department of Veterans Affairs, teaches at the University of Texas, San Antonio, and blogs for the Huffington Post.

The annual free conference held at the University of Maine at Farmington brings together military veterans, family, community and service providers to explore topics related to the struggles of integrating soldiers back into families and society upon their return from war.

Moral injury can also occur in nonmilitary situations of betrayal and trauma, he said. Signs such as shame, guilt, confusion, anger, fear, helplessness and loneliness can mirror those of post-traumatic stress disorder.

But, it is different.

Moral injury develops when a person violates a core moral, religious or philosophical tenet or belief, Bauer told attendees. Beliefs, such as thou shall not kill or to do no harm, can cause a wound to one’s soul and a loss of relationship with God or a higher power, he said.


Moral injury is a relatively new term, but the wounding dates back. Native Americans referred to the soul leaving the body or being bereft of the essence of oneself after going to war, he said.

“The soldier didn’t come back the same person,” Bauer said.

In the early days of Christianity, soldiers were sent to a monastery for two years to recover before going back to society, he said.

“The core truth of who you thought you are is smashed,” he said. “It is a state of loss or trust in a previously held belief — what I thought to be true about God is now in question.”

There is remorse with a feeling that God has turned his back on him and left him alone, he said.

Moral injury affects spouses and children, he said, ready to split as they deal with the results of the wounds.


Bauer provided examples, including one about a female staff sergeant who came to an emergency room where he was working because of to panic attacks, skeletal pain and problems sleeping. Their discussions revealed she was also concerned because she couldn’t bond with her 8-year-old granddaughter since her return.

Further discussion revealed she was driving in a convoy in the Iraqi city of Ramadi where children were placed in the road to distract combat drivers. She was told to “drive on” regardless and ran over a child. 

Sometimes the person is not in direct combat. Drone operators ordered to attack a location 8,000 miles away watch the maneuver and can be injured, he said.

There is hope, although healing can take a long time.  

“Not one size fits all,” he said of treatment, which can begin with talking about what life was like when the person was right with God.

Interventions to help the injured “change your thinking, change your behavior” can also be part of it, along with repentance from war, writing forgiveness letters and talking.

Bauer’s blog can be found at

The conference is sponsored by Tri-County Mental Health with support from the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area, Bank of America and UMF.

Comments are no longer available on this story