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LYNN, Massachusetts — Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moulton has the not-so-distinguishing trait of being the 20th candidate to enter the 2020 Democratic field.
Moulton is a decorated Marine with three Harvard degrees. But he has downplayed his military service so much in the past that even his own parents didn’t realize he'd received the Bronze Star medal for valor; a newspaper called to tell them.
During a town hall in his home district last week, Moulton revealed for the first time that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder associated with his four combat tours in Iraq.
"To be honest, I have not had the courage before to talk about my own struggles with post-traumatic stress,” he told an audience of about 60 people in Lynn, a working-class suburb of Boston.
Moulton described, in detail, one particular incident involving an injured civilian child left in the road in Iraq. He said the incident “haunted” him, but because of regular therapy sessions, he now had control over the memory.
After the event, Moulton told VICE News that revealing his own mental health issues was a political risk — but one he felt was necessary to authentically talk about the issue of veterans’ mental health.
“Well, I mean there's a long history of veterans or other people who have dealt with mental health issues being really stigmatized,” he said. “But you know, there's a big part of me that doesn't really care."
"I mean, the only reason I haven't shared it until this time is because I've been concerned about the political consequences," Moulton continued. "And you know what? Fuck it. It's the right thing to do."
Despite Moulton's impressive credentials, he’s struggling to build a national following for a successful presidential bid. He did earn some headlines Thursday when he put out a plan to restore benefits to the roughly 100,000 gay service members who were discharged under the Clinton-era “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. But he’s one of the few candidates who has not made the upcoming debate stage and is relying on earned media — like cable news town halls — to reach a broader audience.
VICE News spent 48 hours on the campaign trail with Moulton.
This segment originally aired June 5, 2019, on VICE News Tonight on HBO.