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2023 Prayer Breakfast | Moral Injury Support Network for ServiceWomen, Inc.

Serving Female Veterans: Dr. Daniel Roberts' Mission

Dr. Daniel Roberts, also known as Sgt. Maj. Roberts, is an active-duty Army religious affairs specialist who is engaged in a vital life-saving mission. In addition to his day job, he founded and leads an organization named MISNS (Moral Injury Support Network for Servicewomen, Inc.). The term ‘moral injury in veterans’ refers to the profound impact of traumatic events that shake individuals to their core, violating their sense of right and wrong. Such injury can result from committing acts that feel wrong, witnessing horrific events, or experiencing trauma inflicted upon oneself.

Combatting Moral Injury in Veterans: Dr. Roberts' Commitment to Female Veterans

Dr. Roberts has devoted himself to serving female veterans who have experienced moral injury. While some have faced combat situations or served as drone pilots, a significant majority have suffered a moral injury due to their gender. Many servicewomen have survived military sexual trauma, enduring hazing, extreme disrespect, sexual harassment, and even rape. These courageous women joined the military-driven by their sense of duty and the belief that it was a high and honorable calling.

Despite their loyalty and love for the organization, they often hesitated to question or report the mistreatment they endured. The command climate was hostile, and reports of military sexual trauma were frequently dismissed, with perpetrators sometimes being their teammates or commanding officers. The emotional burden of guilt and shame further exacerbated their suffering, leading to anxiety, depression, and sleeplessness.

Dr. Roberts' Journey: From Chaplain to Moral Injury Advocate

Dr. Roberts’s journey to provide counseling and support to morally injured women began during his time as a chaplain in the US military. In 2015, he completed a dissertation focusing on chaplain support for wounded military women. He observed that specific issues faced by female military personnel were not adequately addressed, and many women did not feel comfortable confiding in male chaplains. Dr. Roberts’s interest in and sensitivity to the issue of moral injury solidified when he heard a talk by Dr. Harold Koenig from Duke University on the subject at Fort Bragg. Recognizing the scarcity of research on moral injury in women veterans, he realized he had found his calling.

Empowering Female Veterans: Research and Education Initiatives

To address the gaps in support and understanding, Dr. Roberts established a non-profit organization dedicated to conducting research and educating care providers such as psychologists, social workers, public health practitioners, and military chaplains. This female veterans organization also offers direct support through a network of female chaplains.

Breaking the Silence: Stories of Guilt, Shame, and Sacrifice

Dr. Roberts’s research revealed that sexual assault, gender harassment, and a misogynistic work environment distressingly affected the 50 women included in his initial study. Lower-ranking soldiers often displayed extreme disrespect towards their superior female officers, stating, “I don’t care what your rank is, I’m not listening to you.” Despite the trauma they experienced, these women remained profoundly loyal to the military and felt conflicted about reporting their negative experiences, fearing they were betraying the institution. Through interviews with Dr. Roberts, these women found catharsis, despite the triggering, painful nature of recounting their stories. They all expressed a willingness to share their stories if they could benefit others. Despite feeling betrayed on some level, they remained committed to the ethos of making sacrifices for their teammates.

Healing the Wounds: Dr. Roberts' Counseling Approach

As a counselor, Dr. Roberts approaches his role without limitations on the number or duration of counseling sessions. While VA and hospital encounters have restrictions, he believes it is essential to listen to women’s stories for as long as necessary. Through the storytelling process, he asks probing questions to alleviate guilt and shame, restore women’s sense of self-worth, and help them reclaim their true identity. He facilitates alternative perspectives and listens for themes that contribute to feelings of disempowerment and loss. Many women carry overwhelming guilt, believing they can never find forgiveness for their perceived sins.

Support for Morally Injured Women

Morally injured women who have experienced sexual assault often become isolated, seeking to avoid attention and blend in with their male counterparts. They harbor a sense of responsibility, believing they should have prevented the assault. Feelings of guilt and shame lead them to conceal their bodies and sexuality. Dr. Roberts offers these women alternative perspectives, reminding them that they never expected such a betrayal to occur. In their moments of vulnerability, individuals they trusted as friends attacked and assaulted them. The guilt should rest with the attackers, not with the survivors themselves.

Transforming Lives Affected by Moral Injury

Through conferences sponsored by Dr. Roberts and MISNS, he has become an integral part of a moral injury community of interest that convenes monthly. These connections have enabled him to speak at various conferences, including the recent Canadian Multi-Faith Forum. Through these engagements, Dr. Roberts has joined a compassionate group dedicated to providing physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual support. The US Army recognizes spirituality as an essential component of holistic fitness, and faith holds significance across all religious traditions. Dr. Roberts believes that chaplains, alongside psychologists, social workers, and medical doctors, form a multidisciplinary approach to caring for morally injured servicewomen.

A Vision for the Future: Empowered Servicewomen

Dr. Roberts envisions a future where servicewomen receive the support they deserve, and where moral injury is effectively recognized and addressed. He hopes for a military culture that promotes respect, equality, and inclusivity, ensuring the well-being of all its members. Dr. Roberts continues his tireless work, advocating for policy changes, conducting research, and providing counseling to help servicewomen heal and reclaim their lives.

Take Action: Supporting Servicewomen and Moral Injury Initiatives

If you are a servicewoman who has experienced moral injury or know someone who has, or if you are interested in supporting the cause, reach out to Dr. Daniel Roberts and the Moral Injury Support Network for Servicewomen, Inc. This female veterans organization offers valuable resources, counseling, and support to those in need. Together, we can make a difference and create a brighter future for our brave servicewomen.”

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