What is moral injury? It’s complicated but canines can help

Updated: Jun. 20, 2019 at 2:27 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - As painful as physical injuries can be, there generally is a timetable associated with when they will heal.

Moral injuries don't work that way.

A cousin of post traumatic stress disorder, moral injury occurs — often among military members — when someone “perpetrates, witnesses or fails to prevent acts that transgress one’s own moral beliefs,” according to Terry Henry, chairman of the board for paws4people, a nonprofit organization in Wilmington that places assistance dogs with veterans and other people struggling with physical and mental ailments.

Probably the most glaring example would be a soldier killing someone in battle, knowing they almost certainly wouldn’t do that otherwise.

On Thursday at Cape Fear Community College, paws4people and its offshoot program, paws4vets, opened their two-day moral injury summit, which brings together professionals from different fields and backgrounds to discuss the best options for helping people heal.

Megan Laughinghouse, the executive administrator of paws4people, said assistance dogs have been critical components of the healing process for many.

"If you have something going on inside you, you can open up to the dog and they're going to accept that and accept who you are," Laughinghouse said. "They're gonna help you get through it. They're going to give you not only motivation to do better in your life to help keep the dog going but it's also something that's helping you along the way too."

Since Kyria Henry founded the organization in 1999, paws4people has trained and placed more than 850 dogs free of charge.

In addition to veterans, survivors of sexual trauma, people with physical limitations/medical conditions and those with autism or hearing loss can also be considered for assistance dog placement.

The guilt and shame caused by moral injury sometimes leads to self-harm but Laughinghouse says a canine friend is a good way to avoid that.

“We’re one option for people to get some help,” she said. “We wanted to make sure we had a broad variety of people who can discuss options and bring to light something that is so real.”

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