Veteran Suicide is More From Guilt Than From PTSD

It’s been almost five months since I’ve written anything, and this post is not going to contain much of my writing, but rather sharing with you a note RootsAction sent out to its vast membership containing a clip of me in a talk I gave in London at the end of February:

It should be noted that traumatic brain injury, which in some studies has been found to be present in more than 20% of Afghan and Iraq veterans, and from which I suffer from, also has a very real and significant link to suicide in veterans.

The full video of the talk in London is found below. That talk, titled: “War, Journalism and Whistleblowers — 15 years after Katharine Gun’s Truth Telling on the Verge of the Iraq War”, included Katharine Gun, Thomas Drake, Jesselyn Radack, Silkie Carlo, Norman Solomon and Duncan Campbell, all of whom are really incredible and brave people that I look up to and admire.

I would like to share other parts of that talk later, as we as a panel were questioned by two Iraqi women during the Q&A. Their questions, testimony and witness led to a very emotional and powerful session for many of us.

A couple of days later Tom, Jess and I participated in a panel in Graz, Austria, at the 2018 Elevate Festival. We were joined by Diana Bartelo, Cian Westmoreland and Lisa Ling, as well as by video by Dan Ellsberg.

Below is the note that RootsAction sent out. I hope to begin writing again in the near future. I appreciate all of you following this blog and my work. Peace.

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In this video clip from a recent RootsAction Education Fund event, U.S. veteran and whistleblower Matthew Hoh shatters the popular myth that post-traumatic stress disorder is behind the high suicide rates for U.S. veterans. He notes that PTSD has the lowest connection to suicide of any mental health problem, according to the U.S. Veterans Administration (VA).

Well, then what’s causing so many people so frequently thanked for their “service” to kill themselves?

The answer turns out not to be a secret, but something that most people and most organizations would rather not mention.

Since 1990, Hoh tells us, the VA has known that guilt over participation in killing human beings is the best predictor of suicide. Veterans are killing themselves because they feel guilty for what they’ve done.

Ssshhh! You shouldn’t say that! It’s anti-veterans!

Really? Does it help current veterans or impede the production of more veterans to hush up the problems they face? Haven’t we learned that the first step in addressing a problem is identifying it?

Hoh is himself a veteran who has struggled with a wide array of issues, including guilt, PTSD, brain injury, and substance abuse. He has been certified by North Carolina as a Peer Support Specialist for Mental Health and Substance Use Disorder. He knows of what he speaks. His interest is in helping other veterans. In the video he cites the studies that back up his statements.

Will you help us to continue to support whistleblowers like Matthew Hoh and to produce events like the one in the video? Click here to donate what you can, tax-deductible in the United States.

Matthew Hoh had nearly 12 years of experience with America’s wars overseas with the United States Marine Corps, Department of Defense and State Department. In 2009, Hoh resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan with the State Department over the American escalation of the war and, in 2010, he was named the Ridenhour Prize Recipient for Truth Telling.

Hoh has been a Senior Fellow with the Center for International Policy since 2010. He is a member of the Board of Directors of the Institute for Public Accuracy, an Advisory Board Member for ExposeFacts, North Carolina Committee to Investigate Torture, Veterans For Peace, and World BEYOND War, and he is an Associate Member of Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity (VIPS).

Click here to see the video and consider making a contribution.

The event from which this video is taken marked 15 years since the March 2, 2003, story provided by whistleblower Katharine Gun revealed that the United States and Great Britain were working together to spy on other nations’ delegations to the United Nations as part of an effort to coerce them into voting for a war on Iraq.

We cannot create such events or provide support for such whistleblowers if you don’t help. Please donate!

Please click here. Your tax-deductible donation will help us continue.

I’m on Twitter, again, #PoorPeoplesCampaign, and a Veterans Day letter against tax cuts for the rich

After almost 4 years I decided to give Twitter another try. I’m at @MatthewPHoh if you’d like to follow. I do interviews on a few radio and TV shows each week and so I figure Twitter might be a good, and simple, way to share those appearances.

With the assistance I’ve gotten from the doctors and the staff at the Durham VA Hospital, I also feel I am much more capable in handling the deluge of information that comes from Twitter and social media. An overabundance of information is something that easily overwhelms me cognitively and emotionally because of my TBI, Neuro-cognitive Disorder and PTSD. So let’s see how this works for me. I’m confident I’ll be able to handle it due to the training I’ve gotten from the VA to manage, adjust to and cope with the various issues in my brain. 🙂

A couple of weeks back I took part in the fifth installment of The Gathering, which is a call for the moral revival of our society by Repairers of the Breach and led by Reverend William Barber and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove. You can see an edited version of my interview with Jonathan below. Here is a link to the entire event, which included some pretty amazing singing and one, if not the best, anti-war speeches I’ve heard in the last eight years by Reverend Nelson Johnson. Reverend Johnson comes on at just about the one hour mark.

Finally, for Veterans Day, and yes I know that was already two weeks ago, hence my getting on Twitter to be maybe a little more timely, my name was on a letter sent out by Win Without War urging support for legislation introduced by Representative John Lewis. Representative Lewis’ legislation would not allow tax cuts for the rich until the trillions of dollars in debts, obligations and responsibilities for our wars are paid. The text of the letter is below and you can add your name to my petition supporting Representative Lewis’ amendment and calling on Congress to honor our veterans by accounting for the human, moral and financial costs of war.

Wage Peace.

$5.6 trillion, with no end in sight. That’s the cost of America’s wars since 9/11.

But as a Marine who served in Iraq, I don’t need a price tag to tell you about the cost of our wars for veterans like me. I’ve seen for myself the amputations, traumatic brain injuries, post traumatic stress disorder and moral injury that all lead to massively disproportionate levels of suicide, depression, substance abuse, domestic violence and homelessness in veterans returned home from war. And I’ve witnessed the human cost of our wars beyond our borders, in Iraq where I was stationed and for millions around the world.

Today, Veterans Day parades will celebrate the bravery of servicemembers, and I will be remembering those who were alongside me overseas. But before Cold War hysteria took over, November 11th was Armistice Day — a day for peace. The original Armistice Day marchers, veterans who survived the killing fields of the First World War, carried banners declaring “Never Again.” Imagine if we had listened to those veterans. Instead, our country continues to pour troops into stupid, bloated, and deadly wars.

That’s not honoring or respecting veterans. That’s putting war profits and reckless ideologies over our lives. Please join me in supporting Rep. John Lewis’ call to honor our veterans by accounting for the human, moral, and financial costs of war.

$5.6 trillion by next September works out to $310 billion per year to prop up our endless wars. That’s $23,386 per taxpayer per year. Slice it however you want, it’s an incomprehensibly massive number. And instead of asking ourselves if a single penny is worth it, we just keep freefalling into gargantuan war debt.

As for the spiritual, emotional, mental, and physical costs of my time at war — we won’t ever pay those off. Neither will the friends I remember today who died for a country that won’t acknowledge the cost of their loss. Neither will our families and communities who continue to shoulder the burdens of our service long after we leave the battlefield.

That’s why Rep. John Lewis is speaking up to demand a public, national conversation on war financing. His amendment to Trump’s tax bill would prohibit cutting taxes on the rich — a loss of revenue that would add right onto our pile of war debt — until we get our troops out of Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria and eliminate the war deficit gobbling up our budget.

Add your name to support Rep. Lewis’ amendment and ask Congress to address the costs of war.

Thank you for all you do,

Matthew Hoh, Iraq War veteran

 

Unclaimed Remains

Veterans For Peace and nine allied peace groups held an anti war rally at the Lincoln Memorial, along with other observances in Washington, DC last week as Memorial Day was observed in the US, thousands of men, women and children were killed, injured and made homeless by American bombs overseas and US defense corporation profits exceeded the marks set in previous years. Nothing new, go back 150 or 200 years and the same things would have been written.

I have things I do want to share, but I want to provide Sarah Mess’ poetry by itself here. Sarah is a veteran of Somalia and her poem, Vietnam on My Mind, is staggering.

Talk on Moral Injury and PTSD

From a talk I gave to the Licensed Professional Counselors Association of North Carolina in October on my own issues with PTSD, depression, moral injury, alcohol abuse and suicidality. Please feel free to share this video with others. Other men and women sharing their stories with me has helped in my recovery and I want to do my part and pass that kind of assistance along.

Prior to giving this talk, as I was driving to the conference and walking into the venue, I planned on drinking as soon as I was done. Not just a few beers to watch my Mets play the Dodgers in the playoffs, but a medicinal drowning and extinguishment of that all too familiar, exhausting and debilitating anguish in my head, heart and soul. When I was finished with my talk, although tired, the plan was still there. I drove to a bar, got out of my car, and walked to the bar door. My desire, at that moment, not to be a liar was stronger than my need to drink, and I got back in my car and drove home.

From watching the video I doubt you can tell the pain I was in during this talk, an emotional, existential pain, unlike any known physical pain, and a sort of pain that seems to have no hope or end to it. It is as if a wedge or filter is placed into my head, not allowing me to access the functional, rational, more evolutionary modern parts of my brain. I am living in the poisonous fog that William Styron so masterfully articulated in his Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness;  a book that I can’t recommend enough to help friends and family understand how such mental pain and torment seems inescapable and unending, and drives otherwise very strong men and women to levels of despair that self-euthanizing becomes, in that ill and pained mind, a prudent, practical and necessary option.

My greatest gratitude to my good friend John Shuford who organized this talk and provided me with the video. I hope, in the future, to provide more information on an initiative John is working on to provide greater clinical training to therapists assisting veterans with combat related issues of PTSD, moral injury, depression, alcohol abuse and suicidality.

[Note: The introduction to the video gives a bit of a distorted summary of my career. You can find a professional biography on the About Me page of this blog. Not that it really matters though, as Babe Ruth said: “yesterday’s home runs don’t win today’s ball games”]

 

Insulting America’s Sacred Idols: Helping Veterans Recover from Moral Injury

Back in March, Quaker House in Fayetteville, NC, the home of America’s largest military base, Fort Bragg, hosted me to discuss my recovery from PTSD and moral injury. The full video is below, along with a three minute clip that Lynn Newsom, the co-director of the Fayetteville Quaker House, is using in the talks she gives to military and non-military audiences on moral injury.

During my talk I am not very clear about the correlation, and, yes, I would also say causation, between combat and suicide. However, there is a very clear link between combat veterans and suicide, a link that is obviously very dangerous to cherished American myths of war, with all too familiar, prevalent and false motifs of justice, honor and redemption. To illustrate the connection between war, violence and suicide, a connection that manifests in veterans through PTSD, depression, substance abuse, and moral injury, I have included, at the end of this essay, 15 fairly easy to find studies of the last few decades documenting the prevalence of suicide in combat veterans.

Among the below studies, and among the most recent, dealing with my fellow veterans of the Afghan and Iraq Wars, researchers at the National Center for Veterans Studies have found that veterans who were exposed to killing and atrocity had a 43% greater risk of suicide, while 70% of those Afghan and Iraq veterans who participated in heavy combat had attempted suicide. We spends millions of dollars and thousands of hours to physically, mentally and morally condition each young man and woman who volunteers to serve in the military to travel abroad and kill, but upon their return, in reality, effective and thorough programs to decondition our veterans, help them reenter and reintegrate into society and regain emotional, moral and spiritual balance and health are nonexistent, while care for developed wounds, both physical and mental is underfunded. Continue reading

An Excellent Article On Moral Injury

Quite possibly the best article on moral injury I have read. Thanks to The Atlantic and to Maggie Puniewska.

Healing a Wounded Sense of Morality
Many veterans are suffering from a condition similar to, but distinct from, PTSD: moral injury, in which the ethical transgressions of war can leave service members traumatized.

MAGGIE PUNIEWSKA JUL 3, 2015

Amy Amidon has listened to war stories on a daily basis for almost a decade.

As a clinical psychologist at the Naval Medical Center in San Diego, she works with a multi-week residential program called OASIS, or Overcoming Adversity and Stress Injury Support, for soldiers who have recently returned from deployments. Grief and fear dominate the majority of the conversations in OASIS: Amidon regularly hears participants talk about improvised explosive devices claiming the lives of close friends; about flashbacks of airstrikes pounding cities to rubble; about days spent in 120-degree desert heat, playing hide and seek with a Taliban enemy. Many veterans in the program are there seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.

But many of Amidon’s patients talk about another kind of trauma, a psychic bruise that, unlike PTSD, isn’t rooted in fear. Some of these soldiers describe experiences in which they, or someone close to them, violated their moral code: hurting a civilian who turned out to be unarmed, shooting at a child wearing explosives, or losing trust in a commander who became more concerned with collecting decorative pins than protecting the safety of his troops. Others, she says, are haunted by their own inaction, traumatized by something they witnessed and failed to prevent. In 2012, when the first wave of veterans was returning from the Middle East, these types of experiences were so prevalent at OASIS that “the patients asked for a separate group where they could talk about the heavier stuff, the guilt stuff,” Amidon says. In January 2013, the center created individual and group therapy opportunities specifically for soldiers to talk about the wartime situations that they felt went against their sense of right and wrong. (Rules of engagement are often an ineffective guide through these gray areas: A 2008 survey of soldiers deployed at the beginning of the conflict in Iraq found that nearly 30 percent of the soldiers in each group encountered ethical situations in which they were unsure how to respond.)

Experts have begun to refer to this specific type of psychological trauma as moral injury. “These morally ambiguous situations continue to bother you, weeks, months, or years after they happened,” says Shira Maguen, the mental-health director of the OEF/OIF Integrated Care Clinic at the San Francisco Veterans Affairs Medical Center and one of the first researchers to study the concept. Examples of situations that might precipitate moral injury are betrayals by those in leadership roles, within-rank violence, inability to prevent death or suffering, and hurting civilians. Sometimes it co-exists with PTSD, but moral injury is its own separate trauma with symptoms that can include feelings of shame, guilt, betrayal, regret, anxiety, anger, self-loathing, and self-harm. Last year, a study published in Traumatology found that military personnel who felt conflicted about the “rightness” or “wrongness” of a combat situation were at an increased risk for suicidal thoughts and behavior afterwards, compared with their peers who didn’t have that same sense of ambiguity. The main difference between the two combat-induced traumas is that moral injury is not about the loss of safety, but the loss of trust—in oneself, in others, in the military, and sometimes in the nation as a whole.
Continue reading

Panel on Moral Injury at 2015 Left Forum

This past weekend I was on a very special panel at the 2015 Left Forum. Entitled Betrayed by Our Government, I was joined on the panel by my friend, mentor and hero, Ray McGovern,  Cathy Smith, the mother of Tomas Young, and Kevin Lucey, the father of a young Marine named Jeff who took his life after returning home from the Iraq War. Phil Donahue moderated the panel.

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Click on the image of Phil and then scroll down the Live Stream page. The video is near the bottom, entitled Left Forum Military Families Speak Out

 

If you have not watched Phil Donahue’s film about Tomas Young, who passed away last November, please do so here: