Implementation of Innovative Treatment for Moral Injury Syndrome: A Hybrid Type 2 Study

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VA Office of Research and Development


Begins enrollment this month


Moral Injury Syndrome


Behavioral: Building Spiritual Strength
Behavioral: Present Centered Group Therapy

Study type


Funder types

Other U.S. Federal agency


IIR 22-132

Details and patient eligibility


Moral Injury Syndrome (MIS) affects up to 35-60% of Veterans managing combat-related PTSD; it results from experiences that challenge deeply held values or spiritual beliefs. Symptoms of MIS may include hopelessness, helplessness, loss of spiritual beliefs, difficulty with forgiveness, loss of meaning or purpose, reduced trust in self or others, or intractable guilt, shame or anger.

Veterans managing MIS have difficulty responding to mental health treatment, and are at increased risk for suicide ideation or attempts. To date evidence-based interventions for MIS are not widely available in VA. This study will implement an evidence-based intervention for MIS in four VA facilities, collect data on the effectiveness of the intervention, and develop an implementation toolkit. This data will inform national dissemination in collaboration with the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and the National Chaplain Service.

Full description

Background: Moral injury syndrome (MIS) consists of the psychological and behavioral sequelae of experiences that challenge moral, spiritual, or values related beliefs. Symptoms of MIS may include hopelessness, helplessness, loss of previously held spiritual beliefs, struggle with a Higher Power, difficulty with forgiveness, lack of meaning or purpose, reduced trust in self or others, or intractable guilt, shame or anger. Individuals managing MIS are up to twice as likely as their peers to consider and attempt suicide, and derive less benefit from psychotherapy. There are few evidence-based interventions for moral injury; one such intervention is a manualized, group intervention called "Building Spiritual Strength (BSS)." In previous randomized controlled trials BSS has been shown to reduce both symptoms of PTSD and spiritual distress.

This clinical trial will be one of the first to measure symptoms of MIS as a primary outcome. Hypotheses are:

Compared to Present Centered Group Therapy (PCGT), BSS will significantly decrease symptoms of MIS. Compared to PCGT, BSS will significantly decrease symptoms of PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation.

Significance: To date there are not standard procedures for assessing and treating MIS, so it is likely that untreated MIS is contributing to poor outcomes, including suicides. Developing an implementation toolkit so that BSS is widely available in VA facilities could reduce the impact of MIS on Veterans' mental health.

Innovation and Impact: To date there have not been funded implementation studies on treatments for MIS in Veterans, and very few VA facilities provide evidence-based care for MIS. This study can clear the way to make evidence-based care for MIS more accessible in the VA system.

Specific Aims:

Conduct a mixed methods pre-implementation evaluation to identify barriers and facilitators for BSS implementation at each site, and to develop local implementation strategies. Specific implementation variables assessed, based on the Proctor and EBQI models include acceptability, appropriateness, and feasibility. Specific variables to be assessed will include a) acceptability of BSS to stakeholders, b) available implementation resources, and c) organizational openness to adding a new EBP. Conduct a randomized controlled trial comparing BSS to Present Centered Group Therapy (PCGT) for Veterans who score above cutoff on the Moral Injury Outcomes Scale. Effectiveness and functional outcomes will be informed by the psychospiritual developmental model of MIS. Conduct a mixed methods post-implementation evaluation to compare outcomes across chaplaincy managed vs. mental health managed BSS programs. Proctor model outcomes will include adoption, fidelity, penetration, and sustainability. Specific outcomes related to this framework include a) successful BSS implementation, b) fidelity in implementation of BSS, c) percentage of eligible, referred Veterans who access BSS services, and d) qualitative reports of intent to maintain the BSS program when the study is complete.

Methodology: This will be a type 2 hybrid study, combining pre- and post-implementation evaluations with a randomized clinical trial at 4 culturally diverse VA sites.

Next Steps and Implementation: Data on barriers and facilitators will be used to develop a toolkit and collaborate with study partners at the Office of Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and the National Chaplain Service to develop a national dissemination plan for BSS. The investigators will work with existing clinical staffing at the study sites, so that those sites can continue to provide BSS services after the study. Furthermore, after completing this study, BSS leaders will be qualified to train BSS leaders at other sites, creating resources for training and national dissemination.


200 estimated patients




18+ years old


No Healthy Volunteers

Inclusion criteria

Veteran status and:

  • (a) validation of any of the first three items on the Moral Injury and Distress Scale, which is consistent with probable MIS
  • (b) willingness to be randomized to either treatment condition
  • (c) stability on mental health medications for at least 8 weeks
  • (d) age of 18 years or older

Exclusion criteria

  • (a) insufficient capacity to consent
  • (b) active psychosis or substance use at levels that would interfere with treatment, assessed via chart review, the Alcohol Use Disorders Identification Test - Concise (AUDIT-C) score, and the Mini International Neuropsychiatric Interview (MINI)
  • (c) currently involved in evidence-based psychotherapy for MIS, or evidence-based psychotherapy for PTSD, assessed via chart review and intake interview
  • (d) managing any severe psychopathology that, in the opinion of the investigative team, requires immediate clinical attention, such as imminent suicide risk, assessed via the MINI and supplemental homicide risk questions.

Trial design

Primary purpose

Health Services Research



Interventional model

Parallel Assignment


Single Blind

200 participants in 2 patient groups

Building Spiritual Strength
Experimental group
Spiritually integrated group intervention for moral injury.
Behavioral: Building Spiritual Strength
Present Centered Group Therapy
Active Comparator group
Coping strategies group intervention addressing broad spectrum trauma symptoms
Behavioral: Present Centered Group Therapy

Trial contacts and locations



Central trial contact

Diane L Rivera; Jeanette I Harris, PhD MS MS

Data sourced from

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