Betrayal of What’s Right Compounds PTSD, Adds ‘Moral Injury’

Retired VA psychiatrist Dr. Jonathan Shay on what the Services can do about psychiatric injuries in wartime:

“…Policy, practice and culture are within the control of the uniformed and civilian leadership of our military institutions. We can do a better job of protecting these good young kids who go into harms way for our sake. And we … in essence, we know how to do it. But boy it’s a bear to get the military institutions to really change so that they will do it”

BLOGBACK: In these two interviews below, Dr. Jonathon Shay (MD-PhD), a longtime Veterans Administration mental health care guru talks about Odysseus, the Iliad, leadership malpractice, moral injury and the importance of maintaining military community in treatment of and healing from psychiatric wounds.

This is one guy who really “gets it.” Well worth the time to listen to what he has to say about the issues at hand.



Clinical psychiatrist, Veterans Affairs’ Outpatient Clinic, Boston, Massachusetts (retired); author; MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” recipient for innovative work with veterans.

Jonathan Shay is a clinical psychiatrist whose treatment of combat trauma suffered by Vietnam veterans combined with his critical and imaginative interpretations of the ancient accounts of battle described in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey are deepening our understanding of the effects of warfare on the individual.

Dr Jonathan Shay's 'Achilles in Vietnam' is a must read for anyone impacted by psychiatric wounds of war

His book, Achilles in Vietnam: Combat Trauma and the Undoing of Character (1994), draws parallels between the depiction of the epic warrior-hero Achilles and the experiences of individual veterans whom he treated at a Boston-area Veterans Affairs’ Outpatient Clinic. Reading the poem through the lens of modern experience, Shay rediscovers important nuances that traditional scholarship has often understated in the classical text, particularly that the Iliad is fundamentally a story about the frequently contentious relationship between soldiers and their leaders.

In Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming (2002), using Odysseus as metaphor, Shay focuses on the veteran’s experience upon returning from war and highlights the role of military policy in promoting the mental and physical safety of soldiers. A passionate advocate for veterans and committed to minimizing future psychological trauma, Shay strives for structural reform of the ways the U.S. armed forces are organized, trained, and counseled.

Respected by humanists and military leaders alike, Shay brings into stark relief the emotional problems faced by military combatants and veterans, ancient and modern. In 2007, he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant” for his work with veterans.

Jonathan Shay received a B.A. (1963) from Harvard University and an M.D. (1971) and Ph.D. (1972) from the University of Pennsylvania. From 1987 until recently he was a staff psychiatrist at the Department of Veteran Affairs Outpatient Clinic in Boston, Massachusetts. In 2001, Shay served as Visiting Scholar-at-Large at the U.S. Naval War College, and from 2004 to 2005, he was Chair of Ethics, Leadership, and Personnel Policy in the Office of the U.S. Army Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel.


One Response

  1. […] condition. Shay, a 2007 MacArthur “genius grant” recipient, has been writing and lecturing in an effort to change […]

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