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Family and occupational functioning following military trauma exposure and moral injury
  1. Victoria Williamson1,2,
  2. D Murphy1,3,
  3. S AM Stevelink1,
  4. E Jones4,
  5. S Allen1 and
  6. N Greenberg1
  1. 1 KCMHR, Institute of Psychiatry Psychology and Neuroscience Department of Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, London, UK
  2. 2 Department of Experimental Psychology, Anna Watts Building, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  3. 3 Combat Stress, Leatherhead, UK
  4. 4 KCHMR, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King’s College London, Weston Education Centre, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Victoria Williamson, KCMHR, Institute of Psychiatry Psychology and Neuroscience Department of Basic and Clinical Neuroscience, London, UK; victoria.williamson{at}


Introduction Evidence is growing regarding the impact of potentially morally injurious events (PMIEs) on mental health; yet how moral injury may affect an individual’s occupational and familial functioning remains poorly understood.

Method Thirty male veterans who reported exposure to either traumatic or morally injurious events and 15 clinicians were recruited for semi-structured qualitative interviews.

Results While many veterans experienced psychological distress postevent, those who experienced PMIEs especially reported social withdrawal and engagement in aggressive, risk-taking behaviours. This was highly distressing for family members and created a tense, volatile home and workplace environment that was difficult for others to navigate. Following PMIEs, employment could be used as a cognitive avoidance strategy or as a means to atone for transgressive acts. In cases of moral injury, clinicians considered that targeted support for spouses and accessible guidance to help children to better understand how their military parent may be feeling would be beneficial.

Conclusions This study provides some of the first evidence of the pervasive negative impact of PMIEs on veterans’ familial and occupational functioning. These findings highlight the need to comprehensively screen for the impact of moral injury on daily functioning in future studies that goes beyond just an assessment of psychological symptoms.

  • occupational & industrial medicine
  • psychiatry
  • qualitative research

Data availability statement

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  • Correction notice This article has been corrected since it appeared Online First. Affiliation for E Jones has been updated.

  • Contributors VW, NG, SAMS, SA, EJ and DM were involved in shaping the study design, conducting data collection and analysis and drafting the manuscript for publication. The manuscript has been read and approved by all authors.

  • Funding This study was funded by Forces in Mind Trust (FiMT17/0920E).

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.