Rings, Jeffrey A.

Committee Member

Johnson, Brian

Committee Member

Murdock-Bishop, Jennifer

Committee Member

Clukey, Lory


Applied Psychology and Counselor Education Counseling Psychology


University of Northern Colorado

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Greeley (Colo.)


University of Northern Colorado

Date Created



369 pages

Digital Origin

Born digital


The purpose of this transcendental phenomenological qualitative study was to investigate the construct of moral injury among a female Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF) veteran sample. Moral injury has been defined as the “lasting psychological, biological, spiritual, behavioral, and social impact of perpetrating, failing to prevent, or bearing witness to acts that transgress deeply-held moral beliefs and expectations” (Litz et al., 2009, p. 697). Moral injury also includes experiences of feeling betrayed by others (e.g., leaders and/or peers) while serving in high-stakes situations such as theater (Drescher et al., 2011; Litz, Leslie, Gray, & Nash, 2015; Shay, 1994). A total of 11 female OEF/OIF veterans were ultimately recruited and interviewed before saturation was reached. Data were analyzed using Moustakas three phase horizontalization approach (Moustakas, 1994). Demographic information and qualitative information from the Moral Injury Questionnaire – Military Version screening measure (Currier, Holland, Drescher, & Foy, 2015) were collected to provide additional understanding of the sample. Five composite themes emerged from participant interviews: Feeling Betrayed by Organizational Leaders: “Senior leadership wasn't taking care of us”; Feeling Minimized and Disrespected Through Cultural Norms: “We have to have this emotional exoskeleton”; Various Experiences of Violence: “I don’t always feel good about how we treated them”; Struggling with Relationships: “It’s still the greatest betrayal of my life”; and The Emotional and Psychological Impact of Moral Injury: “Once you're that tortured it's pretty hard to recover.” Further, the clinical and research implications for counseling psychologists were identified, along with ideas for future research. The implications of this study include the recognition that female veterans have had unique morally injurious experiences during their military careers when compare to the experiences of male veterans. These unique experiences include: gender discrimination, sexual harassment, stresses that accompany being a part of a skewed minority group, and having to live and work within a traditionally misogynistic military culture. Further, female veterans experienced military sexual trauma as a morally injurious experience in part because of the ways that they felt betrayed by those who had assaulted them, and also because of the ways that their military leaders had responded to their attempts to report the trauma. Next, that female veterans are likely to have experience combat-related morally injurious experiences even when they did not serve in a traditional combat role during deployment. Further, that female veterans are likely to have morally injurious experiences related to their veteran identity due to the fact that female veterans are not considered the norm within the United States culture. Overall, this study highlighted the need for researchers to continue studying the causes of moral injury within female veteran samples. A new definition of moral injury is offered here to be more inclusive of their experiences.

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