I am the daughter of a World War II army medic. When my dad died at 89 in 2009, I cleaned up his effects and I found his dog tags in his pocket.
He'd carried them for more than 65 years.
I never knew.
We had our own "don't ask, don't tell" policy — but family pacts of silence are simply not healthy.
My work as a philosopher is about breaking down the military-civilian divide, so that service members can come home and thrive.
For the most part, philosophers have been on the sidelines when it comes to helping veterans — focusing instead on theories of what makes a war just, fighting in war, and leaving a war zone.
But we have a lot to contribute.
Australia currently has 1,700 defence force personnel in the Middle East, 750 in Iraq and Syria and 270 in Afghanistan.
On top of that, between 2001 and 2014, some 26,000 ADF soldiers contributed to the International Security Assistance Force operation in Afghanistan, as part of Operation Slipper.
In the United States there are 22 million veterans, and about 2.7 million of them have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
These American and Australian troops are from all-volunteer forces, and make up less than 1 per cent of the population.
As a result, many civilians view those in camo as an exotic breed. But the idea that civilians can't talk intimately with military personnel about their time at war is one we need to break down.
Both sides have to come out of their bunkers.
What is moral injury?
Moral injury is a buzzword — but that's not necessarily a bad thing.
We hear a lot these days about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is understood traditionally as a conditioned fear response to a life threat.
But a PTSD diagnosis just doesn't capture the moral dimension of psychological anguish many service members and veterans experience during and after deployments abroad.
Nor does it begin to touch on the weighty sense of personal and moral responsibility so central to military training.
The notion of moral injury helps to express what happens when traumatic events cross soldiers' moral boundaries, leaving them to deal with the permanent psychological, cultural, and spiritual affects.
The idea has a long history. Socrates, and later the Stoics who take Socrates's lead, put forward the notion that one can be morally damaged or harmed as the perpetrator of wrongdoing.
"Wrongdoing is in every way harmful and shameful to the wrongdoer," Socrates wrote.
"Just as a body is corrupted by disease and injury, so too, that part of ourselves that is improved by just actions is destroyed by unjust actions."
Blame and shame
Moral injuries can be experienced as global feelings of moral despair, or a sense of shattered moral identity and profound moral disillusionment.
It is not surprising that these feelings are so common in war, exacerbated, no doubt, when individuals feel helplessly complicit in unjustified killing.
The military is good at teaching lofty ideals delivered in moral absolutes: never leave a fallen comrade behind, cover each other's back, bring all your troops home.
But war involves imperfect duties that can't be perfectly fulfilled — and young service members, with a black and white sense of morality and a can-do mentality, don't always grasp that fine point.
Consequently, many hold themselves strictly liable.
But moral injury isn't confined to the battlefield.
Injury can be inflicted through actions that diminish one's standing and strength to do and be one's best — to use army talk.
Some years ago, I interviewed a mid-level military officer, Miriam Krieger.
She arrived on base as an aviator with a remarkably distinguished record of academic achievements and military awards.
She was clearly a star and got a highly coveted senior job. But when she reported to take up her new position, the base commander told her that he fought against her appointment and would continue to do everything he could to undermine it, because she was female and he preferred an all-male unit.
The tenor of his complaint was the tenor on base, and there was well-established lingo for it. As Miriam put it, her very presence was "disrupting the status quo" and "tearing down heritage and tradition".
It was clear in talking to Miriam, several years after the incident, that she felt then, and years later still felt, a deep resentment about her mistreatment by a superior, who failed to comply morally and legally with norms — specifically, with fair and equal treatment under gender integration in the forces.
She had been demeaned, degraded and forced to work in a hostile environment, where the commander encouraged sexist values, protective of the old military as a male-only club.
But she also felt miserably let down by her commander in his failing to meet the challenge of treating her as equal.
It wasn't so much that she was wronged, but that he failed her by disappointing her reasonable expectations for him. He didn't invest hope in her in a way that showed commitment to her promise and potential as an aviator in the unit.
He couldn't recognise her bid to show him she was a par with that of any male. And she rightly believed he ought to hear her calls to be allowed in that shared military space—to be inducted into it.
On top of this, she felt disappointment in herself. Despite some critical distance and a fairly feminist upbringing, by a mother with an elite professional career, she nonetheless internalised the male shaming. In the Freudian language of defence mechanisms, she "identified with the aggressor".
The only way to survive, as she put it to me, was to "outbro the bros".
That sense of compromise added to her self-disappointment, and to her disappointment in command for putting her in that position.
As a pilot, she described it vividly to me as a sense of moral disorientation, like the spatial disorientation you can feel during high G-force accelerations. She literally felt that she had lost her moral compass.
Suffering this kind of injury is not an indictment of character — a show of weakness or a matter of not being stoic enough. Rather, the moral disappointment is a painful acknowledgment of failure to take seriously moral principles and ideals.
Miriam's case underscores the point that military moral injury doesn't always occur in a combat context.
Repairing trust beyond the clinic
My work with service members and veterans has been outside the clinic, largely in the classroom and in mentoring roles, in the context of the university.
As academics, we are a part of the homecoming.
We serve a critical role in understanding, up close, what it is we ask citizen soldiers to do when we ask them to serve, and what it is we can do to serve them in coming home.
We owe it to them to responsibly engage in the discussion about going to war and fighting with justification.
But we must also be willing to talk with them, about what it is like to come home from war — morally and psychologically.
Dr Nancy Sherman is a philosophy professor at Georgetown University and the author of Afterwar: Healing the Moral Wounds of Our Soldiers. She will deliver the ABC's 2017 Alan Saunders Memorial Lecture in Adelaide, on July 4. This is an edited excerpt from the lecture.