A Poignant Image of Moral Injury

Recently, retired US Navy SEAL Frank Larkin rebuked President Trump for his dismissal of the severity of injuries sustained in the retaliatory strikes by Iran against service people in Iraq. Trump said:

I heard they had headaches and a couple of other things, but I can report that it’s not very serious.” The President followed up saying: “I don’t consider them severe injuries relative to other injuries that I’ve seen.

As Larkin points out, his son Ryan (also a Navy SEAL), who committed suicide after getting out of the military, suffered from the same ‘trivial’ headaches:

Every day Ryan suffered from a headache and struggled to understand what was wrong with him. After his death, we learned that he had an undiagnosed microscopic level of severe brain injury directly related to military blast exposure.

As I and others written elsewhere, TBI and PTSD can be seen as co-morbid with moral injury. Larkin reinforces this view:

[Ryan] who following 10 years of valiant service to this nation, much of his time in combat, struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder, moral injury and other challenges.

The title of this post indicates an image of moral injury. To put the following in context, Larkin’s son Ryan first trained as a SEAL Medic, but switched to being a SEAL sniper. In other words, a complete switch of poles from helping and saving lives to taking lives in a very personal way while withholding the opportunity of combat to his opponents. I can only imagine the seismic nature of this switch. The moral conflict between his patriotism and his conscience is on full display in this image. Ryan’s father writes:

He took his life one morning clothed in a SEAL Team shirt and red, white and blue shorts. Next to him was a shadow box that captured his numerous awards, unit insignia, and his revered Navy SEAL ‘trident’ pin.  

Moral injury does not get much clearer than that.