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Moral Injury and Veteran Suicide Risk


In recognition of suicide prevention and awareness month, the coalition hosted its third interfaith Seminar at the Greater Mount Zion AME Church in Trenton, New Jersey.

Catholic Charities Veterans Services Diocese of Paterson, NJSOS Vets, NJ Department of Military and Veteran Affairs (DMAVA) VA NJ Health Care System, & Greater Mount Zion AME Church sponsored this event. This is an ongoing endeavor by NJSOSVETS and DMAVA to raise awareness about the need to prevent Veteran suicide throughout our communities. 

The Greater Mount Zion AME Church is a community pillar with a 200-year history of faith, justice, and tenacity. Reverend Dr. Charles Boyer and his father Reverend Allen attended the seminar together. 

These religious leaders recognize that the work of rehabilitating the veteran community can be enhanced by incorporating the individual's spiritual beliefs alongside clinical interventions. 

Dr. Boyer is New Jersey's foremost religious representative on racial justice issues.  He understands that when a Veteran sustains a moral Injury, they may react emotionally or behaviorally, and their faith/spirituality may be affected causing them to doubt their beliefs and their understanding of what is right and wrong. Therefore, it is of upmost importance that when addressing moral injury, we all collaborate and consider the Veteran's spiritual perspective. 

Emerson Crooks, a Vietnam Veteran, and panelist, described how moral injury can result from a traumatic event in which profoundly held morals or values are violated. He emphasized that this could result in poor coping mechanisms and suicide. Therefore, community stakeholders and religious institutions will need to collaborate in order for Veterans to develop an effective communication system of referrals between the VA New Jersey Healthcare System and rapidly gain access to suicide prevention resources.  

During the seminar these Veterans conveyed how they some veterans, and active service members may experience personal humiliation and estrangement from others and God. Yet they also believe that healing can occur for many if they can share their experiences openly and in doing so they can truly take the time to process these personal encounters with the assistance of faith leaders and clinical interventions. 

Chaplain Samuel Hayes of the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs and panelist shared some of his service-related experiences. He also described the significance of faith in his life and the healing process. He believes that religious leaders can assist veterans in addressing their experiences and can assist with the numerous challenging situations faced by Veterans, active service members, and their families. 

Numerous community partners, including the American Red Cross, Community Hope, New Jersey Reentry Corporation, Catholic Charities Diocese of Paterson SSVF, and the Mercer County Office of Veteran Services, participated in the Interfaith Seminar to discuss their many available resources to the faith communities. 

Governor Phil Murphy sent a message of support to our coalition during the Interfaith Seminar which acknowledged that in times of crisis we frequently turn to our religious leaders and communities for assistance. The governor stated: “Together, we can build a network of support and community that could mean the difference between life and death”. Governor Murphy and the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans Affairs are dedicated to supporting the efforts of faith communities to prevent suicide among Service Members, Veterans, and their Families. 

Bradley Jacobs, Coordinator of Suicide Prevention, and Martha Rodriguez, Coordinator of Community Engagement and Partnership for the New Jersey VA Health Care System discussed how they will continue to enhance the community’s toolkit. In addition to continuing to engage the community they will educate and inform religious leaders about VA resources and services to prevent Veteran suicide. 

Lethal Means safety was discussed, and Gun locks were made available to the community. Information on the Veterans Crisis line was also provided. The coalition announced that coordination and training of faith leaders and congregations in SAVE have begun in Trenton, New Jersey. The SAVE training teaches individuals how to respond with care and compassion when they encounter a Veteran in crisis or having suicidal thoughts.  

Please contact if your faith-based community is interested in receiving safe training, gun controls, suicide prevention resources, or attending the next interfaith seminar. 

Please explore The Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships (CFNP) to help your faith leaders connect with community organizations and VA program leaders to develop their resource/toolkits and aid the Veteran community.  

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