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New generation faces mental ‘wounds of war’

President Trump awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor on Wednesday to Sgt. Maj. John Canley, who saved fellow Marines in Vietnam. Meanwhile, another veteran made headlines recently by admitting that he needed saving. Kansas City mayoral candidate Jason Kander dropped out of the race citing PTSD. Reps. Ruben Gallego and Brian Mast join Nick Schifrin to discuss challenges for younger veterans.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, President Trump awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest military decoration, to 80-year-old Sergeant Major John Canley.

    Fifty years ago in Vietnam, Canley helped lead a Marine unit that recaptured a city seized by the North Vietnamese during the Tet Offensive. President Trump said today that Canley exhibited unmatched bravery in charging through enemy fire and risking his own life to save the lives under his command.

  • President Donald Trump:

    One of his fellow warriors who joins us today said, "You followed him because he was a true leader. He was totally fearless. He loved his Marines, and we loved him back."

  • Judy Woodruff:

    That brotherhood has long helped service members recover from the wounds of war, both physical and mental.

    Those wounds are now being felt by a new generation that has fought in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Here again is Nick Schifrin.

    Since 9/11, almost three million Americans have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. The effects of war are profound and last long after the combat ends. An estimated one in five Iraq and Afghanistan veterans suffer from some form of post-traumatic stress disorder.

    One of them is Jason Kander, a former Army intelligence officer who served in Afghanistan. When he left the military, he became the first millennial elected to statewide office and an overnight star in the Democratic Party thanks to an ad promoting background checks.

  • Jason Kander:

    In Afghanistan, I volunteered to be an extra gun in a convoy of unarmored SUVs.

    And in the state legislature, I supported Second Amendment rights. I also believe in background checks, so that terrorists can't get their hands on one of these.

    I approve this message, because I would like see Senator Blunt do this.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    He lost that Senate race, but he was considered the favorite to win the 2019 Kansas city mayor's race, until he unexpectedly ended his campaign, writing in an open letter,

    "After 11 years of trying to outrun depression and PTSD symptoms, I have finally concluded that it's faster than me, that I have to stop running, turn around and confront it."

    We wanted to talk about post-traumatic stress disorder and young veterans who go into public service with 38-year-old Representative Ruben Gallego, a Democrat from Arizona, who joins us from Phoenix. He served in Iraq. And Brian Mast, a 38-year-old Republican from Florida, who joins us from Palm Beach, and served in Afghanistan.

    Thank you very much to both.

    Ruben Gallego, let me start with you.

    You are a friend of Jason Kander. Do you believe what he did was brave? And how important was it that he came out?

  • Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.:

    Well, look, it's brave for any veteran to admit that they have PTSD.

    And when you're in the public eye and you talk about your PTSD, you're basically exposing people to actually make judgments on you. And it's very brave that he's doing it, but it's also part of the process.

    And I think he need — he did it. He did it for himself and did it for his family, so he can become the man that he wants to be, and not let PTSD hold him back.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Brian Mast, you were on an explosive ordinance disposal unit, better known as a bomb squad, in Kandahar in Afghanistan in 2010. You lost both your legs and a finger.

    How important is it to talk not only about the physical wounds of war, but also the mental wounds?

  • Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla.:

    The mental wounds very often can be the tougher thing to deal with.

    I tell people about my own story often. And it's not to say that the physical part of it wasn't difficult at all. Of course the physical part of it was difficult. But the more difficult part to me was that I wasn't going to get to return to the battlefield and do my job in the same way that I had done it before.

    I felt as though initially I had lost my purpose in life. What was I going to do after that? What was my work going to be? What was my family going to think of me? That was the most difficult part of everything.

    Yes, sure there was pain and there was difficulty in the recovery, but it was that mental side of it, to say, what do I do from here going forward? Have I lost my purpose in life? And that was a very — a very tough thing to deal with.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You're both part of a new, a younger generation of veterans.

    Ruben Gallego, is our generation more open to talking about these issues than veterans from previous wars?

  • Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.:

    I think so.

    I mean, I think, for some reason, our generation is a little more understanding. I think because the millennial generation and those above that are the majority of people that went to war, a lot of men and women know friends.

    Unfortunately, the downside of this all, though, is that the military right now is basically being fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and other parts of the world by a very small portion of the population. So while there are — I think there's more understanding in general in this public, the amount of people that are sharing, I guess, in the sacrifice of war and the families is even more and more narrow.

    And I think it shows sometimes.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    How do we overcome that challenge? How do we get all Americans to understand what veterans have gone through and these mental wounds of war that they continue to go through?

  • Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla.:

    I don't think that's a realistic expectation that all Americans understand what it's like to be a veteran, what it's like to go to war.

    There are aspects of that, both on the positive and the negative side, that you can only really understand if that's been a part of your life, these very intense moments of life.

    But what I think that it is important for, for anybody, whether they have served in combat or not, to realize that there is opportunity for what many people call is post-traumatic growth.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ruben Gallego, Jason Kander would admit that he's certainly looking for post-traumatic growth, and had some, but also dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

    And when he wrote his letter, he said that he was worried about admitting his PTSD because it might hurt his political future.

    Does that signify that we're still not quite comfortable enough as a society talking about PTSD?

  • Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.:

    Well, certainly.

    And I think — I think people have to understand, you can be successful in both — all aspects of your life and still have PTSD. And many people do that. I feel like I'm one of those people.

    I hear this from police officers. I hear this from firemen, the guys that I served with in Iraq that wanted to later join the CIA, FBI, or wanting to be air pilots. There's this rumor that is very pervasive among Marines that, if you are diagnosed with PTSD, you're not going to be allowed to have these sensitive jobs.

    For us politicians, yes, it's a worry. But for everyday working men and women, it's a real worry. It's a real worry about their career, that it affects their career advancement. And I think that's why it's important that Jason, myself and Brian are role models to all these men and women, because if we can't admit that we have PTSD and are talking about it, it's going to make it more difficult for them to do that, when they have a lot more to lose than us.

    Like, I have an election to lose, but these men and women could lose their whole livelihood and their whole future, and especially if they don't actually get treated for their PTSD.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And, Brian Mast, quickly, in the time we have left, is it not only the people who are already in the spotlight, but the record number of veteran candidates this year? Do you think that could help?

  • Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla.:


    Any time you're bring awareness to this issue, which is what you're doing right now, which is what's been going on in Congress and other places, whether it's the look at the suicide rates out there, or the way that we can help our veterans coming home to find work, to reintegrate into society, to make sure that they have healthy relationships with their families, there's a very active effort, not just at the governmental front, at the nonprofit front, at the community level front, to make sure that this occurs.

    People care about our veterans today in a way that is so very, very obvious. And it makes a difference in the life of every veteran. It made a difference in my life. I think I can speak for Ruben and say it made a difference in his life as well. And this is something that's important and we should all be proud about today.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Brian Mast, Republican from Florida, Ruben Gallego, Democrat from Arizona, thank you very much to you both.

  • Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz.:

    Thank you.

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