We often thank our Veterans for their service, but how often do we stop and think about what that service entailed?

Veterans have answered the call to serve for a number of reasons. Some include family tradition, others to duty or a career.

In addition to the different reasons to serve, everyone brings with them their own moral, ethical, religious, and social norms that have shaped who they are, how they should act and who they should become.

These values are often tested by what a service-member does, fails to do, witnesses, or learns during their time in the military. These can produce moral conflicts and moral pain.

A program to help with internal conflicts

These internal conflicts can lead to PTSD, suicidal thoughts, depression, mental illness and moral injury.  At the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Philadelphia VA, we are fortunate to have a specialized program for Veterans struggling with these issues. That program is the Moral Injury Group.

Two groups continued their healing dialogues. The idea was born to collaborate in building an Al-Mudhif.

Army Veteran and Chaplain Christopher Antal and Dr.  Peter Yeomans, Behavioral Health, run the program.

The Moral Injury Group is a 12-week program that works intimately with each Veteran, both individually and in group sessions. It allows Veterans the opportunity to explore the moral and spiritual dimension of their military experience, and appropriately address moral and spiritual pain and struggle.

At the conclusion of the intensive program, there is a Community Healing ceremony and graduation when Veterans share their moral burdens from their military service. They invite the community to accept their fair share of the burdens of war.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, tears and hugs abound from the individual Veteran stories.

Veterans engaged with Iraqi refugees

At the last in-person ceremony, December 2019, Iraqi War refugees engaged with several Veterans of the Iraq War who had graduated from the Moral Injury Group.

All of them had experienced the war and each was rebuilding from its aftermath.  Out of that encounter, the two groups wanted to continue their healing dialogues and the idea was born to collaborate in building a sanctuary called Al-Mudhif.

A Mudhif is a traditional grass structure from southern Iraq that dates back over 6,000 years. Mudhifs are the village gathering place for meetings, resolving disputes, prayers, weddings, reconciliation and more.

The thought was to build a Mudhif here on U.S. soil as a place for both Iraq Veterans and Iraqi refugees, as well as the larger community, to use.

In early February 2020, Veterans Hannibal Collick, Harold Mojicatoro, Leroy Enck, Andrew Wall, Philip Forest, along with Chaplain Antal (also an Iraq Veteran) and Dr. Yeomans, started the project.

Harvested thousands of reeds for the Mudhif

Along with members of the Iraqi community, they harvested thousands of 20 feet tall reeds that would be used in the construction of the Mudhif from the John Heinz Wildlife Refuge Center.

Mudhif: a village gathering place for meetings, resolving disputes, prayers, weddings, reconciliation.

With approval from the Lenape Indian tribe, whose land would be the site of the future Mudhif and the Schuylkill Environmental Education Center, they broke ground Memorial Day, May 31, 2021.

Our Veterans, the refugees and community volunteers worked side-by-side. They marked off the land, dug holes, bound reeds and built the structure.

On June 24, 2021, the structure was dedicated and opened. The experience had a profound impact on the Veterans who helped build it.

A place for future generations to experience understanding

“For some Veterans and military members, our time in Iraq was marked with loss and destruction… losing fellow service-members in body or spirit and witnessing a similar loss among indigenous communities,” said Leroy Enck, a Moral Injury Group graduate who served three deployments to Iraq with the Marine Corps. “Some of us have struggled with the larger moral implications of this impact. After participating in the difficult work of moral engagement, have decided to dedicate ourselves to this work as atonement. Now, we have an opportunity to engage in constructing the first Mudhif outside of Iraq. We’re building a new community with our brethren among the Iraqis who now call Philadelphia home. An opportunity for generations to experience greater understanding of people and flora displaced through no choice of their own.”

The Al-Mudhif will be open to the public through mid-October 2021. It is a place of healing, prayer, remembrance, reconciliation and cultural sharing.

Related blog post: Combat Veteran embraces Whole Health to find healing.

By Rita Chappelle is chief of Medical Media and External Affairs at the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz VA Medical Center

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Published on Jul. 26, 2021

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  1. Melinda July 26, 2021 at 7:15 pm

    What does it take to get a group like this going at the Maine VA? The Maine VA does not have any type of groups, be it for moral injury, a grief group, a women veterans group, etc. I think Maine no longer has a VA hospital and the extra large clinic that is there refuses to open up to veterans. Veterans in Maine no longer have the medical care they were promised.

    • Christopher Antal August 3, 2021 at 2:57 pm

      Dear Melinda:

      Thank you for taking the time to read this post and reply. I hear your yearning for a program like we offer in Philadelphia. Our staff here is presently assisting staff at other VA sites. Please call our chaplain service if you would like to learn more about what might be possible.

      Our Chaplain Service number is 215-823-5814.

      best regards,
      Chaplain Antal

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