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Meaning in Life and the Veteran Journey Home


Rita Nakashima Brock, PhD
Senior VP for Moral Injury Recovery Programs at Volunteers of America

Monday, May 13, 2024
Humanities Gateway Rm. 1030
11:00-12:00: Talk and Panel

12:00-12:30 Presentation

Lunch available after 12:30

Please RSVP
by May 8, 2024

Moral injury focuses on appropriate moral responses to experiencing or perpetrating devastating harm in such situations as war, pandemics, natural disasters, torture, or betrayal by trusted authorities or leaders in high stakes situations. Responses such as outrage, sorrow, shame, guilt, remorse, despair, suicidality, social isolation, or cynicism have long been recognized in ancient religious texts and great literature as spiritual suffering that can threaten a person’s core identity or soul. This lecture will discuss what we all can learn from the challenges veterans face finding their way back into civilian society, especially when the society itself is riven by controversy, division, and moral distress. In addition, strategies for recovery will be demonstrated that can help all of us process moral pain recover our core goodness, and restore hope for the future.

Meaning systems guide our behavior, and when we enter new systems, we can be greatly changed. Initiation into military service, for example, is an intense, 24/7 process that, in just a few months, turns civilian recruits into effective, tightly-bonded fighting units willing to die for each other. For some, the relationships formed in their units are the deepest, most meaningful friendships of their lives. The change effected by military “boot camp” is intense enough that many veterans can feel disoriented or even alien re-entering the civilian world. They may miss their unit and struggle with a life purpose beyond personal success, which can feel paltry and meaningless in the aftermath of serving in teams committed to each other’s survival. While PTSD is often seen as the problem for veterans, research increasingly shows their struggle is with “moral injury,” which is not a mental health disorder.

SueJeanne Koh, Graduate Futures Program Director

Panel Respondents

Tomas Figueroa, School of Humanities Assistant Dean 

Jeffrey Helmreich, Associate Professor of Philosophy

and Co-Director of Center for Legal Philosophy


Robert Hernandez, Marine Corps Veteran and Facilitator for VOA Programs

Raven Smith, Army Veteran and Facilitator for VOA Programs

Co-sponsored by the Center for Legal Philosophy, Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, and Veterans Services Center