Donald Trump on Monday seemed to imply that military veterans battling post-traumatic stress disorder are not strong because they “can’t handle” the “horror stories” they’ve seen in combat.
Trump delivered a brief address to veterans in Herndon, Virginia, before participating in a Q-and-A session, during which the Republican presidential nominee was asked whether he would “support and fund a more holistic approach to solve the problems and issues of veteran suicide, PTSD, [traumatic brain injuries] and other” mental and behavioral health issues facing veterans, as well as if he would “take steps to restore the historic role of our chaplains and the importance of spiritual fitness and spiritual resiliency programs.”
Trump responded in the affirmative, adding that the U.S. needs that “so badly.”
“When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat — and they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over and you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it,” Trump said. “And they see horror stories. They see events that you couldn’t see in a movie. Nobody would believe it.”
The real estate mogul called for more assistance with veterans’ mental health, noting that “it’s one of the things that I think is least addressed” but also “one of the things that I hear the most about when I go around and talk to the veterans.”
“So we’re gonna have a very, very robust — very, very robust — level of performance having to do with mental health. We are losing so many great people that can be taken care of if they had proper care,” Trump continued. “You know, when you hear the 22 suicides a day — big part of your question — but when you hear the 22 suicides a day, that should never be. That should never be. So we’re gonna be addressing that very strongly, and the whole mental health issue is going to be a very important issue when I take over, and the VA is going to be fixed in so many ways, but that’s gonna be one of the ways we’re gonna help, and that’s in many respects going to be the No. 1 thing we have to do because I think it’s really been left behind.”
In a statement released Monday afternoon by Trump’s campaign, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn blamed the media for what he framed as a blatant attempt to “deceive voters and veterans.”
“The media continues to operate as the propaganda arm of Hillary Clinton as they took Mr. Trump’s words out of context in order to deceive voters and veterans—an appalling act that shows they are willing to go to any length to carry water for their candidate of choice,” Flynn said. “Mr. Trump was highlighting the challenges veterans face when returning home after serving their country. He has always respected the service and sacrifice of our military men and women—proposing reforms to Veteran Affairs to adequately address the various issues veterans face when they return home.”
Trump’s comments were part of a call for more focus and resources on veteran mental health. It’s a worthy call, of course, but his statement betrayed a fundamental misunderstanding about mental health.
Veterans are not weak for having a mental health disorder. The science shows that PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will develop PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control.
It is insulting that Trump is speaking from ignorance on a very serious subject.
And Trump is no stranger to insulting our veterans.
- In July, 2015, Trump slammed Senator John McCain for not being a war hero, “because he was captured.”
- After four months of bragging he gave $1 million dollars to veteran charities that Trump pledged during his Rally For Vets event, journalist uncovered that Trump was lying the entire time. Only then did Trump donate his money to veterans.
Although the rate of veterans suicide was previously estimated to be 22 a day, the Department of Veterans’ Affairs updated that number to 20 in July.