On Eve of Veterans Day, a Former Soldier Speaks Out on Hidden Costs of War from PTSD to Suicide

November 10, 2014
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Matthew Hoh

senior fellow at the Center for International Policy. He is a former Marine and State Department official who resigned in protest from his post in Afghanistan over U.S. policy in September 2009. Prior to his assignment in Afghanistan, he served in Iraq.

On the eve of Veterans Day, we discuss with Matthew Hoh, a former Marine who fought in Iraq, the hidden impacts of war on those who serve. In 2009, Hoh became the first known U.S. official to resign in protest over the Afghan War. "The costs of these wars are hidden," Hoh says. "Men and women coming from war have always been afflicted by suicide. The problem is we don’t get help until we hit rock bottom." Twenty-two U.S. veterans commit suicide every day, a toll that has surpassed the number of soldiers killed in combat.


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.


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