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

 

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

Presidential War Lies, Standing Ovations and the Great Waste of Everything

From yesterday’s Huffington Post:

“In war, truth is the first casualty.”
— Aeschylus 525-456 BC

As reported by the BBC this month, the Taliban have rejected an offer by the newly installed President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, of Cabinet positions and governorships in three Afghan provinces. The provinces include Helmand and Kandahar, where thousands of American and Western troops have been killed and wounded, particularly since 2009 when President Obama chose to escalate the war in Afghanistan rather than seeking a political solution to end the war.

Five years on and Afghan civilian and security force casualties are at record highs, the Taliban is larger and stronger than it has been at any point since 2001, government and police corruption is massively untamed, and Afghans last year were subjected to their third incredibly fraudulent national election in five years. In fact, the only thing going well for anyone in Afghanistan, besides the Taliban and those on the take of Western foreign aid, are the bumper narcotics crops, which each year produce historic yields.

The Taliban, having been offered power in their home region, have spurned any opportunities for reconciliation and compromise. “Moderates” within the Taliban, whom we could have negotiated with in 2008 and 2009 prior to President Obama’s escalation of the war, have been proven wrong and largely eliminated. The hard-line elements of the Taliban, having seen the Taliban weather the full force of the United States of America, see history as repeating itself or, at the very least, rhyming. Like the departure of the Soviet Union from Afghanistan in 1989, it is now just a question of time before the foreign backed regime in Kabul collapses. Time, among many other factors, was always on the side of the Afghan insurgents.
Continue reading

Recovering From the Darkness of PTSD After War

This is the second part of my interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now. We cover a lot of issues in the conversation and this is probably the most personal I have ever been on camera in terms of speaking of my own issues. Much thanks to Amy and Democracy Now for giving me so much time to speak.

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In 2009, Matthew Hoh became the first State Department official to resign protest from his post in Afghanistan over U.S. policy. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh was deployed twice to Iraq. In part two of our conversation, we speak with Hoh about what happened after he blew the whistle on the Afghan War and his long fight to recover from post-traumatic stress syndrome. On his website, Hoh writes: “In 2007, after my second deployment to Iraq, PTSD and severe depression took over my life. I began trying to drink myself to death. Thoughts of suicide became common until they were a near daily presence by 2011.”

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. As President Obama announces more boots on the ground in Iraq, another 1,500, bringing the total, it’s believed, to about 3,000, with hundreds of bombing raids in Iraq and also Syria, we’re joined by Matthew Hoh. He is a former State Department official who resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan over U.S. policy there in September 2009. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, Matthew Hoh served in Iraq. From 2004 to ’05, he worked with a State Department reconstruction and governance team. And from 2006 to ’07, he worked as a Marine Corps company commander in Anbar province. He’s now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. He’s joining us from Raleigh, North Carolina.

Matthew Hoh, welcome back to Democracy Now! for part two of our conversation. I wanted to ask you about the response to you as a whistleblower. At the time, you were the highest State Department official to resign over U.S. policy in Afghanistan. What happened to you after that?

MATTHEW HOH: Well, thanks for having me on again, Amy. You know, there was divisions within the Obama administration on the war in Afghanistan. And so, what I said about the war in Afghanistan—how I said our presence was fueling the insurgency, al-Qaeda had left there a long time ago, we were supporting a corrupt government in Afghanistan, our troops were dying for no good reason—many members of the administration believed, most importantly Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, who was our ambassador in Afghanistan, and Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who was the special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. And they both, to some degree, I believe, protected me from attack from within the U.S. government; however, from the military side, I did take some pressure. I do know that General Petraeus’s command in Tampa, Central Command, actually hired a strategic communications firm to actively discredit me. So, when I would appear on television, this firm would say—would send emails to producers or to newspapers to try and get me pulled off or not written about, basically saying, “This guy isn’t who he says he is. This guy doesn’t really”—

AMY GOODMAN: What was the firm, Matthew?

MATTHEW HOH: I don’t recall—the name of the—and here’s the great—why I kind of believe, Amy, karma exists. The name of the firm—I don’t believe the firm exists any longer. The name of the fellow who ran the firm was Duncan Boothby. And this was the gentleman who introduced Michael Hastings to General McChrystal in 2010. So I do believe in karma to a certain extent. The guy who was actively seeking to discredit me then turned and introduced Michael Hastings, who wrote the great book The Operators, whose Rolling Stone article shone a light on how General McChrystal and his staff actually operated, and so I do believe there is some karma. And in one of those things that, you know, you can’t—where truth is stranger than fiction, I know all this because Duncan Boothby told me himself. He introduced himself to me at a Christmas party in December of 2009, just walked right up to me and said, “You know, I hope you don’t take any offense to it, but I’m the guy who’s been discrediting you to the media.” And, you know, but that’s the way Washington, D.C., works, and that’s the way our senior military works.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what did it mean? How did you see that manifest?

MATTHEW HOH: I did notice that I started to appear less and less on news programs. I know I had articles about me pulled from publications like The Star-Ledger in New Jersey. I know when I would appear on CNN, I was told that, you know, “You can be on, but there has to be someone to counter you, because you have a bias.” And they would sometimes put somebody on who was independent, an independent analyst, so to speak, who was actually in the pay of the Pentagon. So, it really was—it was very absurd, very Kafkaesque. I had a long series of interviews with Dan Rather, who was going to do a special on me, and he actually pulled it because he received pressure from the Pentagon not to do that. So it really was. It was really quite absurd, quite Kafkaesque. But it wasn’t surprising, because I had worked in Washington, D.C., I had been around senior levels, and I understood what I had gotten myself into. I understood the politics of it, and I understood the type of people that were involved in it.

And it further fueled my desire to work to end the wars, because it just showed—and this is what’s important to know for Veterans Day—our men and women who are serving overseas, who are killing, who are being killed, who are being maimed, who are coming home with these psychological wounds that—you know, as we spoke in part one, 22 veterans a day are killing themselves—they’re dying in support of people who are making policies, who are so selfish in their own concerns that they disregard the reality of what’s happening in these countries, disregard the reality of our presence, disregard the effects that it has on our troops. And so, that campaign against me, that, you know, putting up a Wikipedia page, a false Wikipedia page about me with all kinds of false information, those kinds of things, that really only fueled me to work harder to try and stop these wars, to try and get our soldiers home, and to try and end the suffering for millions of people in those war zones.

AMY GOODMAN: Explain the Wikipedia page, the fake Wikipedia page.

MATTHEW HOH: You know, all of a sudden I had a friend of mine text me and said—because, Amy, this was—I was a marine, and I worked for the government. Before 2009, the last time I had been in the news was in 1991 for high school track. So, I hadn’t—you know, this wasn’t anything I was used to, nothing my friends were accustomed to, that I was, you know, on the television or in the newspapers. And all of a sudden, my friend texts me one day, and she says, “You’re on—you’ve got a Wikipedia page,” and was shocked. And there was a Wikipedia page about me, and it just had a bunch of half-truths and mistruths. You know, just it had some general biographical information, but then the information went on to say how I wasn’t really working for the State Department, I made up my position, I didn’t have the experience I was attesting to—basically casting doubt on my credibility, basically casting doubt on who I said I was. It prominently featured—al-Qaeda had put a propaganda out one time where they took a clip of mine and edited it and put it into their propaganda video. It prominently featured that, and, you know, so basically hinting at, was I—what I was doing, was that helping al-Qaeda? You know, so, it was that type of thing. And it went back and forth, because there are some very nice people out there who edited it on my behalf without my asking. And it finally got to the point where I actually contacted Wikipedia and said, you know, “I’m the subject of this piece, and it has a lot of inaccuracies, and I’m tired of it, and can you just get rid of it?” And they did. They deleted it. And that hasn’t been a problem for a couple years. But that was one part of that, you know, campaign.

And I’ve seen it with other people, too. You certainly see it with other whistleblowers. Lieutenant Colonel Danny Davis, who went to Congress with a report in February 2012 saying that, look, the war in Afghanistan is going very badly, the Afghan security forces are not ready to take control—all things that had been proven, in fact, since then—he was actively discredited by senior members of the Pentagon. They went after him behind the scenes to, you know, media executives. And then you’re seeing it to extreme lengths, of course, with whistleblowers like Peter van Buren, who wrote the book—who was a State Department official who wrote a book about his time in Iraq that the State Department did not like, and so they went after him, threatening him with legal action, threatening to take away his pension. Thomas Drake, of course, the NSA whistleblower, they trumped up charges, charged him with the Espionage Act. They actually—in Tom Drake’s case, the FBI raided his house, turned his house upside down, and they actually—he had documents there, work documents there, and in Tom Drake’s case, they actually retroactively classified the documents. So when Tom took those documents home, they weren’t classified, but after the FBI raided his house and they needed a reason to shut him up, to shut him down, to make an example of him, they retroactively classified the documents to say that he was spying. You know, and on and on. Of course, you have Chelsea Manning, you have Edward Snowden, you have a host of other whistleblowers out there, too, who have been actively campaigned against by the federal government, by the State Department, by the Pentagon. And it really is quite a shame. I mean, this president, President Obama, has persecuted whistleblowers to a greater extent than any previous president.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, I wanted to go to the issue, on Veterans Day, of your PTSD. In the first part of our discussion, we talked about, you know, what it means overall in the country. But I wanted to go back to that quote on your website, at MatthewHoh.com, where you wrote, quote, “In 2007, after my second deployment to Iraq, PTSD and severe depression took over my life. I began trying to drink myself to death. Thoughts of suicide became common until they were a near daily presence by 2011.” That’s what you wrote on your website. And I wanted to talk specifically about how you recovered. If you could talk about what you did dealing with PTSD, even when you realized you had it?

MATTHEW HOH: Well, you know, it first really hit me after my second deployment to Iraq, about four months after I was home. And it was like you read about or like you hear: There was this black wave that came over me. And at the darkest of times, I—I was always a big drinker anyway, but not in this sense. And it soon became where the only way I could survive, where the only way I could numb myself, the only medication that would make me be OK, where I could sleep, where I could kind of—where the pressure, the stress in my head was bearable, was by drinking. And soon that became my way of killing myself. It became a slow way to kill myself, you know. And, of course, one of the things with post-traumatic stress disorder and with alcohol abuse is that they fit one another. They reinforce one another. I like to describe post-traumatic stress disorder as, say, as if you have a bruise on your brain; when you water it with alcohol, it grows, and it takes over more of your brain. And that was absolutely the case.

And, I mean, here was something where there is a double standard, which I think most men and women in the military can identify with, where I used to stand in front of my marines and talk about these issues, but when it happened to me, I couldn’t get help. I wouldn’t get help. I tried to treat it myself. And this persisted until—through 2011. And by that point, as you say in that quote of mine, I was thinking of killing myself. And there was a plan, you know. And I think that is what’s frightening to a lot of us who go through this, is that—and when you relapse, when this is something you still struggle with. So as I still struggle with these issues, the frightening thing, Amy, is that when it comes or when you’re back in that spot, you pick up the plan from the same location. You know, you pick up from where you left it off. How are you going to handle letting your family know? Where are you going to do it at? What are you going to use? All those things are mapped out.

And so, basically, what happened in—beginning of 2012, I was in a relationship. We were living together, and it was just a nightmare for my ex-girlfriend. And she got us to go to counseling. And the second counseling session, the counselor said, “You know what? I think this is not about you guys. I think this is about you.” And fortunately, the counselor was a former sailor who had PTSD issues of his own, and I bonded with him. And I trusted him because he was a service—he was a veteran. He had gone through these issues. He knew what I was talking about. And he saved my life. His name’s Lenny Brisendine. He’s in Georgetown. And he saved my life. He got me to stop drinking. He got me to go to the VA, got me on medication, because at that point I had hit rock bottom, and it was really just one way or the other. And if it wasn’t for Lenny, if it wasn’t for my ex-girlfriend getting me into therapy, if it wasn’t for some great doctors down here at the VA in Raleigh, if it wasn’t for my family—I have tremendous support from my family—I wouldn’t be here talking to you. I mean, I am completely certain of that, that I wouldn’t have lasted another year. I would have killed myself—

AMY GOODMAN: For—

MATTHEW HOH: —because of—

AMY GOODMAN: For vets who are going through what you went through and what you continue to deal with, when you say that the therapist saved your life, what exactly did he do to get you to stop drinking, to go to the VA, to begin to take medication? When did it click for you?

MATTHEW HOH: I think it was—well, the clicking for me was when the one question he asked me was, “Tell me about your future,” and I said I had no future. And it was at that point I became self-aware, I believe, of what was really going on, even though I had been going through it for four years. I knew it was going on. I mean, my life was programmed around alcohol, the panic attacks, the breakdowns or the pressure. I mean, I knew what I was going through, but I didn’t care. I didn’t think there was any other choice for me. It was the only way I could deal with it. And so, sitting across from this man who had gone through the same thing himself, who opened himself up to me and who got me to admit a couple things about myself, all of a sudden it was something I could no longer ignore. And so, the importance about testimony in a case of what Lenny did, what others did, and then what I started to do then was I started to watch videos of other veterans who were going through the same issues, read about them, because what you find is you see yourself in them. You say, “Oh, my gosh, that’s exactly what I’m going through, and he’s saying he’s doing better now. Well, OK, let’s keep watching, or let’s turn the page and see what we need to do.”

I mean, there are a lot of things that go with PTSD, and also another component of this is what is called “moral injury,” which a lot of us suffer from, it is what I suffer from, which is different than PTSD but afflicts a lot of veterans. But there are a lot of components. We get ourselves into financial difficulties. We have intimacy issues. I mean, one of the hardest things for relationships is that veterans with PTSD, with moral injury, with these kinds of problems, will stop being intimate with their partners, and it destroys the relationship. And it’s certainly what was happening with me in my relationship. It’s a very difficult thing to talk about, very difficult thing to acknowledge, but it kills relationships. And then, once the relationship is gone, what keeps you from killing yourself is that you’re holding onto things that you have. So, for me, to be completely honest, one of the things that kept me alive was the fact that I was doing media, talking about the war. And so, I was afraid that if I killed myself, right, then those who were opposed to me would say, “Oh, you can’t listen to that guy. He ended up killing himself.” So you find these things to latch onto. And so, for a lot of veterans, it’s their relationship. And when that relationship goes, then there’s nothing left to hold onto. The distress is overwhelming. The pain is overwhelming. And so, the choice then is made that this is the only thing I can do to end my distress, to end my suffering. And unfortunately, as we noted before, 22—at least 22 veterans a day are making that choice.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Matthew Hoh, who’s a former Marine company commander in Iraq, talking about dealing with PTSD, as we move into Veterans Day. You know, the VA scandal continues to unfold. In the latest news out of the VA, Matt, they are saying that they’re considering disciplinary action against a thousand employees, as it struggles to correct systemic problems that led to long wait times for veterans, that led to falsification of records of the cover-up delays. That issue of long wait times is not just a matter of, oh, it’s inconvenient, you know, so someone has to wait a couple weeks—

MATTHEW HOH: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —or couple months—actually, it might be a couple years. As you describe dealing with PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder, that could be a matter of life and death, as real as any disease someone is suffering from.

MATTHEW HOH: Oh, absolutely, absolutely. And in fact, one of the issues with the wait times, the frustrations that you find in the VA—and let me be clear: In my, the VA I go to, I have had excellent care from the doctors and staff. They are truly wonderful, gifted people. But they work in a system that is just completely broken. When I moved down here to Raleigh a couple years ago, even though I was suicidal, even though I was being treated, it took me almost four months to see somebody in the VA down here, not because they didn’t care, not because they didn’t want to help, but because they are overwhelmed, they’re overburdened. The system is just broken. And so, what can happen is that if the veteran who is suffering from this has lost everything and he’s hitting that rock bottom and he’s finally going to the VA to help, and then he gets turned away or he gets frustrated, well, that’s going to make his situation worse. That’s going to make him or her more despondent. That’s going to make him feel as if there is going to be no end to this suffering. So, the option to kill himself is the best option for him. And it really is frightening how that does occur, how the system itself can contribute to these losses.

And again, as we mentioned in part one, there’s just been a serious, serious just managerial incompetence in the VA. Up until just a couple years ago, as we mentioned before, the VA wasn’t even collecting data on veteran suicides on a national level, and we’re still not collecting data on a completely national level. We still have 20-some-odd states that aren’t contributing to the database on veteran suicides. There is no way to make sure we’re capturing all veteran suicides, because only about 40 percent of veterans are registered with the VA. And if you ask why are only 40 percent of the veterans registered with the VA, I’ll tell you because the VA system has been a very frustrating, difficult and painful experience. I just finally—after about two-and-a-half years, I finally got my disability claim from the VA, and it’s completely wrong. I mean, I’ve been seeing a counselor for alcohol abuse for a couple years on a weekly basis, and the disability process in the VA said I didn’t have an alcohol abuse problem. So, it’s those kinds of things that I think turn people away, that chase people away, that don’t let veterans get help, because they get frustrated, they get sick over it, they throw their hands up. And then so they turn to what is working for them in the interim—alcohol, drugs—and unfortunately, that path more than likely ends up in suicide.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Matt Hoh, the definition of PTSD and what so many soldiers and veterans had to deal with for so long of even being categorized in that way, instead of being sent home with aspirin?

MATTHEW HOH: Yeah. So, with post-traumatic stress disorder, what it basically—and there’s a wide variety. This exists in the civilian world, too. Many people—survivors of sexual assault, survivors of accidents, survivors of abuse—they will all suffer post-traumatic stress disorder in a similar vein from veterans. I think post-traumatic stress disorder from warfare is a bit different, and I think there’s also a piece of this that is becoming more understood, better understood, this moral injury component, wherein that is, in your mind, the person you are did not do the things that you expected them to do. So, in my case, the moral injury is that I have guilt over things I did or guilt I failed to do. I didn’t live up to the expectations of myself in war. And when I come home, I now have to live with that. I now have to live that with this notion that I did things or I didn’t do things that I’m not morally OK with, that that’s not who I thought I was. So you have that destruction of your self-image. You have that destruction of the soul, basically.

And then, with post-traumatic stress disorder, you have basically, in some ways described as your fight-or-flight system is stuck open, that valve is stuck open, so you’re constantly in overdrive. So you’re constantly over-aware. You’re constantly reacting as if you’re still there. And this can take form in flashbacks, in dreams, in just a constant pressure, a constant stress that exists with you every day. And that then extends and breaks down your daily life. It breaks down your relationships. It breaks down your job performance. It breaks down your finances. And so, it has an effect that then radiates out. And because you’re not getting help, because maybe you’re turning to alcohol or you’re turning to drugs, it then cycles on itself, and it just continues to build, until the point comes that you hit rock bottom. And then it’s either one way or the other. And unfortunately, way too many of us are choosing suicide as opposed to getting help.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, would you do things differently, as you reflect back on your life now, from being a Marine Corps commander, a company commander in Iraq, to serving in Afghanistan as a State Department official, quitting and what you’ve done since then?

MATTHEW HOH: I don’t think so, Amy. You know, I’d like to say maybe, but I don’t think so. I think I’m at the place now because of the decisions I made, whether they were the right decisions or the wrong decisions. You know, I’ve—I actually saw a great—I’m 41, you know, so I’m going through what all of us who are turning in their forties are going through of “How did this happen to me?” you know? But I saw this little bumper sticker, and it said, “Life begins at 40. Everything before then is research.” And I think that’s absolutely true. I think that’s actually the case. I mean, that’s life and the journey we’re on. And it’s a constant journey. I’ve got another 40-some-odd years to make up for things maybe I did wrong, for mistakes I made, to improve upon things or to do things well again. And so, I think that’s the way I like to view it as, rather than looking back and saying, “I would have done this differently or that differently,” because I can’t honestly say I would have.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, Fallujah, Friday, it was the 10th anniversary of the second battle of Fallujah, where I think it was the bloodiest battle for U.S. troops. Something like a hundred died.

MATTHEW HOH: Yes.

AMY GOODMAN: Not clear how many Iraqis died. Now the Islamic State, ISIS, has control of Fallujah.

MATTHEW HOH: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you comment on this?

MATTHEW HOH: Well, and they’ve been—since January, there’s been a lot of fighting in Fallujah. And Fallujah itself has never been entirely secure, particularly these last few years, the Iraqi government. But what you’re seeing is sectarian fighting. You’re seeing Sunni versus Shia. So, in January of this year, the people of Fallujah had basically had enough with the Shia government. They felt they were being preyed upon. They felt like they were being oppressed. And with the Islamic State, they have been fighting the Iraqi government, the Shia government, for control since then.

One of the things that’s important, I think, for folks listening and watching to be aware of is that this violence in Iraq is not new. It didn’t just happen again in the summer. Last year, almost 10,000 people were killed in bombings and shootings and in violence in Iraq, and this year, of course, it’ll be probably more than double that. So, it is. I mean, you look at it in the sense of 10 years ago, when we launched that operation in Fallujah, it was the bloodiest campaign of the war. Thousands were killed. Thousands were wounded. Horrible, horrible fighting. The city was destroyed, to a certain degree. And I think it’s an important lesson. I think it shows the mistake of trying to achieve policy goals with violence. By somehow achieving victory in the short term, you make sure you don’t achieve any stability or any peace in the mid or the long term.

And I think, too, the repercussions of the fighting in Fallujah from 10 years ago, of course, are still being seen now, because they’re still fighting. But also, too, as well, we have very severe concerns for the public health of the people in Iraq because of the depleted uranium that we used. Depleted uranium is very dense, and so we use it in our munitions, in our tank gun rounds and in our—in other munitions that we have, because it basically works so well when you’re trying to kill. But the problem is, is after you use it, it sits in the ground, and that uranium sinks into the ground and into the water supply. And now, these years afterwards, we now see very horrible incidence of cancer, of birth defects, of women bearing still-born babies. And so, not just do we have this legacy that’s still alive—the fighting is still going on, people are still being killed every day, the Islamic State is beheading people, the Iraqi government is shelling buildings, including schools and hospitals—but you have this, even if there was stability, even if there was peace, the people of Iraq would be suffering because their groundwater, their land is contaminated, and their children are dying because of it.

AMY GOODMAN: And the chemical exposure Iraqis face, and also U.S. soldiers, your response to the Pentagon admitting that 600 American servicemembers since 2003 have reported to military medical staff members they believe they were exposed to chemical warfare agents in Iraq, the Pentagon failing to realize the scope of the reported cases or [offer] adequate tracking and treatment to those who may have been injured, the Pentagon says. This was a big exposé in The New York Times.

MATTHEW HOH: Mm-hmm. Yes, I mean, certainly when I was there, we found them. I remember reading a report that a unit would find old chemical weapons shells, you know, and so the explosive ordnance disposal guys would have to go there and take care—and that’s one of the reasons why normal troops were not supposed to blow up any old Iraqi shells that they found, because they might be chemical rounds. I mean, this was widely known within the troops fighting over there that there were these old chemical munitions laying around. It was reported. And so, this idea that somehow the Pentagon is just realizing it now or that it wasn’t adequately reported is a lie.

And I think it falls into play with other aspects of how the Pentagon and our government has conducted itself over time. I mean, certainly the easiest and the clearest example is Agent Orange. I mean, Agent Orange was a defoliant we used in Vietnam to strip the leaves off of the jungle. It was assured to everybody—our troops and the people of Southeast Asia—that it was not going to be a problem. And, of course, you know, go over to the VA hospital, and it’s full of veterans suffering from the effects of that in terms of cancer, as well as, if you visit Vietnam or Laos or Cambodia, they are suffering the same.

So this notion that somehow the Pentagon didn’t know about it, that they didn’t understand it, it wasn’t being reported properly, is a complete lie. I’m just grateful that they are actually addressing it now, and hopefully those 600—and it may be more—servicemembers who were exposed to it, hopefully they had been receiving adequate treatment throughout this time and it’s not just that they’re going to their first doctor’s appointment for this this week.

AMY GOODMAN: And in Afghanistan, that’s the country you were where you quit the State Department. The latest news from The Washington Post, bombers targeted Afghanistan’s police, killing at least 10 officers and a civilian in two separate attacks in the latest sign of growing violence in the country. The attacks came one day after a suicide bomber infiltrated the heavily fortified police headquarters in the capital, Kabul, and blew himself up, killing a senior police official and wounding several others. We’ve talked a lot about Iraq. What about Afghanistan?

MATTHEW HOH: Well, Afghanistan, you know, unfortunately for the Afghan people, they’ve seen violence increase every year. Violence is worse now than it was in 2009 when President Obama escalated the war in Afghanistan. You’ve had a series of fraudulent elections in Afghanistan. This last one, the presidential election of this year, was so fraudulent, they couldn’t even release the numbers from it, and basically they had to create an extra constitutional position for—so that both candidates would accept victory, and you wouldn’t have a broadening of the civil war in Afghanistan. Basically, Secretary Kerry had to say, “You’re going to do this, in order for us to keep giving you the money.” And I think that’s what people should take away from it, is how much influence our money has in these conflicts, how they prop up corrupt governments, these kleptocracies.

The only thing that has prospered in Afghanistan since 2009 has been the drug trade. Every year, the poppy crops, the marijuana crops are larger than they were the previous year. And I should counter that with saying also, too, the Taliban have prospered, as well, because the Taliban are actually larger, stronger, more capable than they were in previous years. Every year, they grow in size, and you could see as reflected in the numbers of attacks they launch, IEDs they put in the ground, the number of police or soldiers they killed.

So, Afghanistan is in a very, very difficult position. The civil war is ongoing. The Taliban are in a position of power, where they can negotiate when they want to. The government is incredibly corrupt. There is no economy to speak of. And I think the Afghans will unfortunately have to suffer for quite a long time until stability comes there. They’ve been fighting for as long as I’ve been alive, or at least almost as long; they’ve been fighting since the mid-’70s. And so, I think, unfortunately, the Afghans are going to have to suffer and continue to suffer. And I think it should be a lesson on the limits of American power, what we can achieve and what we should try to achieve.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, on Sunday, former President George W. Bush appeared on CBS’s Face the Nation to talk about a book he had written about his father. The host, Bob Schieffer, asked him about a statement he makes in his book regarding his decision to invade Iraq in 2003.

BOB SCHIEFFER: You write in the book, when you decided to send troops into Iraq, it was not to finish what your dad had started.
GEORGE W. BUSH: Yeah. There are very few defensive moments of the book, and that happens to be one. I guess I was just responding to kind of the gossip that tends to work around the political circles, that clearly he had only one thing in mind, and that was to finish the job his father did, because my dad decided not to go into Baghdad after routing Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait. And the reason why is that wasn’t the mission he stated. And so, I went in there as a result of a very changed environment because of September the 11th. And the danger we were concerned about was that the weapons would be put into the hands of terrorist groups that would come and make the attacks of 9/11 pale in comparison.
AMY GOODMAN: That was George W. Bush. Matthew Hoh, your response?

MATTHEW HOH: It’s amazing, Amy. I mean, the president continues to lie about the Iraq War. In that clip there, he references 9/11. The Iraqis had nothing to do with 9/11. That’s been proven beyond a doubt. He references the weapons of mass destruction that Saddam Hussein was going to give to the terrorists to attack us, which didn’t exist. And it’s just—you know, I’m at a loss for words, because I had not heard that until now, and so I’m at a loss for words what to say about that, how insane it is that that is the man who was the president of the United States, that’s the man who was on Face the Nation, that’s the man who is seen, to some degree, as a kingmaker, in terms of pushing his brother to run for president, as well, and that a large percent of this country, while they will put the yellow ribbon on their cars, while they’ll give a standing ovation to the vet without legs at a baseball game, while they’ll all gladly take Veterans Day off to go shopping, won’t hold a man responsible for his actions that has killed thousands, wounded hundreds of thousands—and one of the things we don’t talk about a lot is the number of traumatic brain injuries in this country from the wars. We have about 250,000 soldiers who have suffered traumatic brain injuries from the war. And so, this dissonance, the absurdity that exists in this country that President Bush is able to say such things, and then for the Face the Nation host, Bob Schieffer, who’s been doing that job for 20-some-odd years, to not kick him off the show for outright lying and for being so disrespectful to those who died over there for that mistake, it’s just—again, I’m at a loss for words.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Matthew Hoh, as the veterans’ tributes begin for Veterans Day, what do you think would be the greatest tribute to veterans, as a veteran yourself?

MATTHEW HOH: I think the greatest tribute would be, to tie into what I was just saying, is some form of accountability, some form of holding responsible those who have made mistakes. You know, I only served 10 years in the Marines, but I’ve had friends of mine who have served 20 or 30 years, and they’ve spent half that time in the Middle East, and we’ve all had friends die. We’ve all seen people in Iraq and Afghanistan and other locations suffer, and that carries with us. And I think that’s one of the issues that we face, is that there has been no accountability, there has been no justice. These wars have been failures. They’ve been done for just reasons of malfeasance, of just reasons that seem to be unknown or you don’t want to understand what the actual reasons were. And so, I think the best thing that could happen for veterans is some form of accountability for these wars, people being held responsible, from both parties. You know, the Democrats are just as complicit in these wars as the Republicans are.

AMY GOODMAN: Matthew Hoh, thanks so much for being with us, former State Department official who resigned in protest of the war in Afghanistan, resigned from his post there over U.S. policy in September 2009. Before that, he served in Iraq; from 2004 to ’05, worked with a State Department team; from 2006 to ’07, worked as a Marine Corps company commander in Anbar province; now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy, speaking to us from his home state of North Carolina in Raleigh. Thanks so much.

MATTHEW HOH: Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

Veterans Day Interview, Part 1, Segment 2

Appropriately, on Veterans Day, this segment deals primarily with the issue of suicides within the veterans community. Unfortunately, the satellite drops before we finished talking.

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Matthew Hoh, you write on your website, quote, “In 2007, after my second deployment to Iraq, PTSD and severe depression took over my life. I began trying to drink myself to death. Thoughts of suicide became common until they were a near daily presence by 2011.” That was what you said. As the nation commemorates Veterans Day tomorrow, what do you want people to understand about the impact of war on those who serve?

MATTHEW HOH: You know, with this recent—and I appreciate you bringing it up, Amy, and certainly, just if anyone is listening or watching, you can contact me through my website, and I’m happy to talk about my own struggles with PTSD, with alcohol abuse, with suicidality, because other people helped me, and that’s how we survive this. You know, the costs of these wars, I think, are something that’s hidden, Amy. The suicides are a constant in the veteran community. This is something that has always occurred. I don’t like using the term “epidemic,” because that implies that it’s somehow worse now than it was before, and I don’t think that’s ever been the case. I think men and women coming home from war have always been afflicted with suicide. But we’re at the point now where—

AMY GOODMAN: What are the numbers per day? Do you know?

MATTHEW HOH: The numbers are—yes, the numbers are quite striking, and these numbers are conservative because we don’t have full data from all the states. It was only a couple years ago, Amy, that the Veterans Administration actually started tracking veteran suicides on a national level. But right now we’re looking at at least 22 veterans kill themselves every day. More than two of those veterans every day who kill themselves are Iraq or Afghanistan veterans. Those numbers will climb as those veterans get older. But what that means for Iraq and Afghanistan veterans is that more veterans have killed themselves after coming home from Iraq or Afghanistan than have been killed in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan. And as I said, we can expect those numbers to climb. The things I have seen, I have been—it has been explained to me that over the course of our lifetime, Iraq and Afghanistan vets, one in five veterans who saw combat in Iraq or Afghanistan, will attempt to kill themselves. And—

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, these are astounding figures. Twenty-two veterans a day in the United States?

MATTHEW HOH: At least, Amy, at least. And I say “at least,” because, as of now, we have only about 30 states contributing data to the Veterans Administration on how many veterans kill themselves. We only—

AMY GOODMAN: More than 8,000 a year.

MATTHEW HOH: Exactly. And that’s what we know of. Again, that’s what we know of. It’s 8,000 a year. It’s been always said within the veterans’ community that if you were to build a Vietnam veterans’ war memorial for those who killed themselves after they came home from Vietnam, that memorial would be longer than the memorial we have in Washington, D.C., with its 60,000 names on it.

I just had a friend of mine, one of my former officers, one of my lieutenants, just texted me yesterday to tell me one of his former marines tried to kill himself, shot himself in the head. And that kid, that young man, is now brain-dead. And this is something that in the veteran community we all know this. We see this, this experience. And so, the importance is, how do you get help? And the problem is, is like—and as you mentioned when you read from my website, the problem is, is that we don’t get help until we hit rock bottom. And that seems to be another constant in this, is that—

AMY GOODMAN: It looks like we just lost Matthew Hoh, former State Department official who resigned in protest over his post—the satellite in Raleigh, North Carolina. Matthew Hoh quit in 2009 prior to his assignment in Afghanistan. He served in Iraq. From 2004 to 2005, he worked with a State Department reconstruction and governance team there. From 2006 to ’07, he worked as a Marine Corps company commander in Anbar province. He’s now a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we go to New Haven, Connecticut, to Yale University, where a public health worker has just returned from Liberia. He was there and is just finishing his quarantine. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.