‘Where am I in all of this?’ Impact of a morally injurious mission on the home front of Dutchbat III military Veterans

Research has shown time and time again that war has an impact on the mental well-being of Veterans and their families. But what does that impact look like when a mission is characterized by severe violations of norms and values (in other words, moral injury)? In this study, family members of Dutch Veterans talked about the impact on their lives of a mission gone bad in the former Yugoslavia, 25 years after it happened. Although most of the families were doing well, all of the families felt left alone in taking care of their Veterans after they returned and in dealing with negative press coverage. For the well-being of all, they expressed the need for more appreciation for and acknowledgement of Veterans and their families.


Introduction: In 1995, the United Nations (UN) peacekeeping mission involving the Dutch battalion, Dutchbat III, in the former country of Yugoslavia ended in the killing of 8,000 Bosniak Muslim boys and men by the Bosnian-Serbian army. The mission and its aftermath may be considered potentially morally injurious events that had a long-term impact on the Bosnian people and Dutch Veterans. A study was conducted 25 years after the mission to examine its impact on home front members (i.e., Veterans’ partners and close family members). 


Methods: Qualitative data were obtained through interviews with five female partners and two parents of Dutchbat III Veterans, as well as from a focus group with four female partners. Topics included the mission, experience of appreciation and support, health, daily functioning, resilience, meaning-making, and possible solutions. Thematic analysis was conducted using open, axial, and selective coding. 


Results: Findings were interpreted using a model of morally injurious impacts of war on military family members. Family members reported a generally good quality of life and no need for care for themselves but a unanimous perceived lack of support by the government and need for more recognition and appreciation of the Veterans. 


Discussion: Home front members of Dutchbat III Veterans seemed to suffer mainly from indirect mission impact that led to continued feelings of betrayal. Recognition and appreciation of military Veterans by the government and media may prevent or mitigate such feelings. Involving home front members in Veteran care and long-term follow-up is important.

Bernardette C.E.M. Blom, F. Jackie June ter Heide, Bart Nauta, Trudy M. Mooren, Miranda Olff | 2023
In: Journal of Military, Veteran and Family Health ; ISSN: 2368-7924
Online ahead of print DOI: 10.3138/jmvfh-2022-0065
Betrayal, Dutch, Family Members, Guilt, Military Personnel, Moral Injury (eng), Parents, Partners, Peacekeeping Personnel, Shame, United Nations Personnel, Veterans