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.

StandUpForTruth.Org Webcast with David Swanson

Here’s an audio file of a webcast I did with David Swanson for StandUpForTruth.Org on the importance of people coming forward as whistleblowers and what the public can do to support them.

Also, if you’ve never heard of Operation Northwoods, please take a quick read here:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Northwoods

 

Heroes in NYC

Our feeling is that while the State may remove any material artifacts that speak in defiance against incumbent authoritarianism, the acts of resistance remain in the public consciousness. And it is in sharing that act of defiance that hope resides. — The Illuminator Art Collective

Snowden-Projection

http://mashable.com/2015/04/07/edward-snowden-hologram-statue-brooklyn/

Whistleblower Panel in Oslo with Daniel Ellsberg

A panel I took part on while I was in Oslo last month. Daniel Ellsberg skyped in and I joined Coleen Rowley, Kirk Wiebe and Norman Solomon, as well as Arne Ruth, a very preeminent Swedish journalist. Only the first few moments are in Norwegian 🙂

Profile in The American Conservative

Kelley Vlahos of The American Conservative did a very nice profile of me last week. It was humbling to be put in the same context as Tom Drake and I can’t begin to say how kind Jesselyn Radack is for her gracious words.

Matthew-Hoh1

Washington Doesn’t Forgive Whistleblowers

“That was the first I saw of the racket.”

For Matthew Hoh, a former Marine, government official, and civilian contract overseer in Iraq, seeing “the racket” for the first time was a turning point that eventually led him to turn his back on a successful and heady career in Washington. He became a whistleblower by decrying a failing strategy in Afghanistan, and for a while, was a bone fide cause célèbre. But like others who have made similar leaps of conscience, Hoh has found out the hard way that Washington does not forgive.

“Certainly I couldn’t find work for anything,” he told TAC in a recent interview. “I went for something like 24 months out of 36 months without a paycheck. I couldn’t get temporary work or [work] driving a town car… I was selling cars.”

The Washington national security and foreign policy establishment is apparently closed to Hoh now, no matter how right he was. Starting over, as fellow whistleblower Tom Drake pointed out, can be an emotionally crippling experience, especially when you know you it was your own decision to take the path that brought you to this point.

Hoh’s story

It’s been nearly five years since Hoh turned in his resignation letter to the U.S. State Department, for which he was working as a senior civilian representative tasked with assessing the progress of the counterinsurgency operations in the Taliban center of gravity, southeastern Afghanistan. Hoh was sent into the country along with thousands of fresh U.S. Marine and Army deployments under new president Barack Obama.

At the time, the military establishment back home was confident that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, as a member of Gen. David Petraeus’ inner circle, could turn around the faltering war in Afghanistan with the came COIN doctrine that “won” Iraq during the surge. Hoh saw things very differently. As a Marine who had served in Iraq as both a company commander and a civilian administrator, he had already sensed the futility of that war, the corruption of the reconstruction effort—the aforementioned “racket” in which tens of millions of dollars worth of Iraqi assets and American money were disappearing into the pockets of crafty businessmen with little to show for it (things that another now underemployed whistleblower, Peter Van Buren, colorfully describes in his own memoirs). Hoh was seasoned but open-minded. He ended up, however, disillusioned.

“I was naive,” Hoh said bluntly. “I felt we learned our lesson in Iraq and were going to do things differently. When Petraeus took over (U.S. Central Command) in the fall of 2008, he made the point, over and over, that it wouldn’t be a military solution but a political solution. That’s what my view was. I wanted to be involved, it was my career, that is what I lived for.” Going back, Hoh felt, too, that it would help him with the demons at his own door, the onset of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). At least it would be better than dealing with it from a Pentagon desk job back home. He was 36.

“Not surprisingly,” he said, recalling his time in Nangahar province in the East and Zabul province in the South, what he found “was a very confused situation, very frustrating in terms of how the military was being run, how ISAF (International Security Assistance Force) was being run.”

He said it was clear they were trying to force an Iraq surge template on Afghanistan, and that it was not going to work. The U.S. presence there was fueling the insurgency, and increasing the legitimacy of Taliban forces. “We were trying to win some morality play,” he said.

When your narrative is false, then you are not recognizing that you are occupying a country and creating this political vacuum and not allowing a legitimate political order to be established, and you’re marginalizing a significant element of the population who will be playing into the propaganda of extremists like al Qaeda or insurgents like the Taliban.

For Hoh, it wasn’t just the strategy that was wrong, it was the war itself. “I find specious the reasons we ask for bloodshed and sacrifice from our young men and women in Afghanistan,” he wrote. Hoh’s struggle with what he was experiencing on the ground was compounded by the fact the American people were getting a completely different version of events back home. This “theater” would continue through Operation Moshtarek (Marjah) and the Battle of Kandahar in 2010. And this, says Hoh, was nothing to be proud of.

“I couldn’t look at anyone anymore and say their son or daughter died for a good cause,” he says, recalling his last days at the State Department. “I wrote up this resignation letter basically telling them off, that we all know what we are doing there is wrong and these kids are dying for no reason,” he recalled.

He wasn’t let go easily. He recalls that he met with then-U.S. envoy Richard Holbrooke, who empathized with Hoh’s misgivings, but implored him to stay; he even convinced Hoh, momentarily, during a meeting at the Waldorf Hotel in New York. “We took his letter very seriously, because he was a good officer,” Holbrooke said in an interview with the Washington Post at the time. Holbrooke died in 2010.

But after returning to Foggy Bottom and seeing what he described as the Stepford-like resolve of the State Department staffers, Hoh knew things would be no different. “They were talking about a completely different war,” than the one he had seen. “They were wearing blinders. Clearly the only Afghans they had ever spoken to were Afghans in power, or those on our payroll. After that, I called (Holbrooke) back and said I can’t do this, it’s not the right thing.”

For his part, Hoh had not planned on going to the press. He had met a Post reporter at D.C. bar, watching a football game one evening about a month after sending the letter. After a lengthy conversation, he was asked to call the newsroom the next day. He spoke with top reporter Karen DeYoung. What happened next is history.

“When I woke up the next morning (after the publication) my phone messages exploded, my Facebook page exploded.” There were black suburbans and reporters with cameras congregating outside of his apartment building. He did a lot of media then, and not surprisingly, received backlash from the COIN crowd who immediately tried to discredit him on the military blogs and on Wikipedia.

“Media would tell me they were getting calls from people saying I wasn’t who I said I was,” Hoh said. After a whirlwind of speaking engagements and media appearances, speaking largely against the war, he retained a position with the new Afghan Study Group, hosted by the New America Foundation—his last real chance for working in the field he loves. Unfortunately, his PTSD was overtaking his life, his temperament was erratic, and he was drinking too much. He left voluntarily. From there, things went downhill.

“I went until April 2013 without a paycheck,” he said. He got back on his feet, mostly through friends and family and a good PTSD program at the VA. But all he had to look forward to at that point was finding odd jobs. He moved back with his parents in North Carolina to start over.

By then the props and staging had fallen away in Afghanistan, and it was clear COIN indeed had been an overhyped promise. No one today is likely to argue otherwise. Nevertheless, it was dawning on Hoh that he had little chance of getting into his old field, even if his assessments about Afghanistan had been spot-on.

“A couple of friends had wanted to get me a job in the federal government,” he recalled. One had gotten a note back from a prospective employer that read simply, “this is the guy you want me to talk to?” with a link to his story online.

The Whistleblower Blacklist

Jesselyn Radack, a whistleblower and attorney who now serves clients like Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden for the Government Accountability Project, said Hoh’s case is not atypical. “I consider Matthew Hoh a hero,” she told TAC. However, “far too often, whistleblowers end up blacklisted, bankrupt, and broken. Even when you prevail, there’s still this taint, often due in no small part to the government upon which you blew the whistle.”

“It’s very socially isolating – you are disconnected from a profession in which you grew up, and a profession in which you poured a lot of yourself into, where you were recognized as being a part of the government and military,” said Drake, a decorated military veteran who was a senior-level National Security Agency executive when he started back-channeling his concerns to Congress and the press about the unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping of Americans in the early 2000s. He was charged with violating the Espionage Act for leaking classified information to the press, which he denied. The federal prosecution was relentless but eventually fizzled, and the government dropped all charges in exchange for a guilty plea to one misdemeanor charge, for exceeding authorized use of his government computer.

Drake was forced to do 240 hours of community service. He had already lost his job, his pension, and security clearances. He now works at an Apple Store.

“If you try to re-engage with another part of the government, your chances are slim to none. Washington [institutions] have very long memories, they can hold grudges for years, sometimes decades,” Drake tells TAC. Meanwhile, even non-profits that advocate for whistleblowers and civil liberties have been hesitant to bring him on, despite his expertise and obvious commitment. He senses that he might be seen as a drag with big name donors who are notoriously skittish when it comes to controversy. “I’m aware of it – especially in this climate.”

That’s why, added Hoh, “you see all these (whistleblowers) at the Ridenhour awards (of which Hoh and Drake are both recipients) and these guys are working at craft stores or Apple Stores or the YMCA.”

He said he is in a much better place today and frankly, wants nothing to do with the Beltway scene other than to advocate for greater government transparency and whistleblower protections. While he continues to look for full-time employment, he is lending a hand to the Institute for Public Accuracy’s ExposeFacts.org.

Does he have advice for future whistleblowers? Hoh certainly doesn’t want to discourage them. “Don’t be naive about it and prepare yourself and your family and reach out for help,” he said.

Regrets? No. If anything, he now sees Washington for what it is—“a racket.”

“No one is going to hire you to tell them what they are doing is wrong. It’s about the money. Money drives the policy,” he said. “I don’t think I’ll ever get a job there but you know, it doesn’t bother me anymore.”

 

 

ExposeFacts.org

ExposeFactsTransitShelter

Last week I took part in the ribbon cutting of a new effort to encourage men and women in government and corporate service to listen to their conscience and find the courage to speak out and confront what they know is not right.

Expose Facts is a project of the Institute for Public Accuracy and has received support from the Freedom of the Press Foundation.

In addition to a website that will serve to assist whistleblowers, we placed our first billboard  encouraging truth tellers. Outside the State Department you will now find a billboard of Daniel Ellsberg, a building I once walked into daily in 2005 and 2006 while working on Iraq policy. It was an honor to help cut that ribbon with Colonel Ann Wright.

If you like this idea, you can support more billboard placements throughout DC and in other cities

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