The stigma around post-traumatic stress disorder kept Seth Moulton from talking openly about his own mental health struggles for years, the Massachusetts congressman told CNN’s Jake Tapper.
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who served as a Marine during the Iraq War, revealed his diagnosis of PTSD last week and introduced a veterans’ mental health plan that would require annual mental health checkups for active-duty military and veterans.
In a Sunday appearance on “State of the Union,” Moulton admitted that he was worried for a long time that talking about his PTSD would hurt his political career.
“This is a place where I did not have the courage to share my own story, because I was afraid of the political consequences,” he said.
Moulton told Tapper that when he returned from Iraq, he experienced cold sweats, flashbacks, and bad dreams.
“There were times when I couldn’t get through a day without thinking about some of the experiences that I went through,” he said.
One memory in particular has continued to haunt him.
Moulton recalled that during the first few days of the invasion of Iraq, he was with a Marine battalion heading north toward Baghdad. A group ahead of his had “shot up” cars and buses believed to be full of enemy troops, but at least one of the vehicles was carrying an Iraqi family, he said.
“We came upon this car, it had careened off the side — the parents were obviously dead,” Moulton said. “But there was a boy, probably about 5 years old, lying in the middle of the road, wounded and writhing in pain. And at that moment I made one of the most difficult decisions in my entire life, which was to drive around that boy and keep pressing that attack. Because to stop, would have stopped the entire battalion’s advance. It would have endangered the lives of dozens if not hundreds of Marines. But there is nothing I wanted to do more than just get out of my armored vehicle and help that little kid. And there was a time, when I got back from the war, when I couldn’t get through a day without thinking about that 5-year-old boy and leaving him in the middle of the road.”
That’s when he decided to get help for his PTSD, which granted him some control over the memories that were flooding him, he said.
Moulton said that moment with the boy was the first time, but not the last, that he “came face-to-face with the brutal inhumanity of war.”
“I will remember his face till the day that I die,” he said.