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Patterns of Potential Moral Injury in Post-9/11 Combat Veterans and COVID-19 Healthcare Workers.

Nieuwsma JA, O'Brien EC, Xu H, Smigelsky MA, VISN 6 MIRECC Workgroup , HERO Research Program , Meador KG. Patterns of Potential Moral Injury in Post-9/11 Combat Veterans and COVID-19 Healthcare Workers. Journal of general internal medicine. 2022 Jun 1; 37(8):2033-2040.

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BACKGROUND: Moral injury has primarily been studied in combat veterans but might also affect healthcare workers (HCWs) due to the COVID-19 pandemic. OBJECTIVE: To compare patterns of potential moral injury (PMI) between post-9/11 military combat veterans and healthcare workers (HCWs) surveyed during the COVID-19 pandemic. DESIGN: Cross-sectional surveys of veterans (2015-2019) and HCWs (2020-2021) in the USA. PARTICIPANTS: 618 military veterans who were deployed to a combat zone after September 11, 2001, and 2099 HCWs working in healthcare during the COVID-19 pandemic. MAIN MEASURES: Other-induced PMI (disturbed by others' immoral acts) and self-induced PMI (disturbed by having violated own morals) were the primary outcomes. Sociodemographic variables, combat/COVID-19 experience, depression, quality of life, and burnout were measured as correlates. KEY RESULTS: 46.1% of post-9/11 veterans and 50.7% of HCWs endorsed other-induced PMI, whereas 24.1% of post-9/11 veterans and 18.2% of HCWs endorsed self-induced PMI. Different types of PMI were significantly associated with gender, race, enlisted vs. officer status, and post-battle traumatic experiences among veterans and with age, race, working in a high COVID-19-risk setting, and reported COVID-19 exposure among HCWs. Endorsing either type of PMI was associated with significantly higher depressive symptoms and worse quality of life in both samples and higher burnout among HCWs. CONCLUSIONS: The potential for moral injury is relatively high among combat veterans and COVID-19 HCWs, with deleterious consequences for mental health and burnout. Demographic characteristics suggestive of less social empowerment may increase risk for moral injury. Longitudinal research among COVID-19 HCWs is needed. Moral injury prevention and intervention efforts for HCWs may benefit from consulting models used with veterans.

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