Trump Takes Heat From Mental Health Advocates, Dems On PTSD Comments

October 4, 2016 11:35 a.m.

Donald Trump’s suggestion Monday that victims of post-traumatic stress disorder and combat-related suicide aren’t as “strong” as their comrades comes amid a push to destigmatize mental health issues in the military, drawing strong reactions from those close to the issue.

“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,” Trump said during a town hall hosted by the Retired American Warriors in Herndon, Virginia. “And you’re strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it.”

He went on to call for stronger mental health initiatives for veterans, but critics were quick to jump on the implication that veterans who need those mental health services are not “strong.”

“It is not a sign of weakness to get help. In fact, it’s a sign of character and a sign of strength to ensure that you’re taking care of yourself,” White House press secretary Josh Earnest said in a Monday briefing in reaction to Trump’s comments.

Vice President Joe Biden also slammed the remarks as “ignorant” during an interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo later the same day.

“This guy says things he has no idea about,” Biden said. “How can he be so out of touch and asked to lead this country?”

PTSD “is not a reflection of a person’s strength, character, stamina – any of that,” David Maulsby, the executive director of the PTSD Foundation of America, told the Associated Press. “Our veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress as a result of their combat need to be encouraged to seek help, and not be told they are weak or deficient in character in any way, shape or form.”

Zach Iscol told the AP that Trump’s suggestion “shows a complete misunderstanding of what post-traumatic stress disorder is.” Iscol is a veteran and executive director of the Headstrong Project, which helps provide free mental health services to veterans.

Iscol added that Trump’s comments weren’t “just wrong, they’re dangerous.”

Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, reacted on Twitter, saying that Trump was sending the “wrong message.”

Veterans also took to Twitter to criticize Trump’s remarks:

As did Senate Democrats:

John Weaver, a senior consultant for Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s (R) 2016 presidential campaign, seized the opportunity to point out that Trump received five draft deferments at the height of the Vietnam War and has not served in the military.

And Evan McMullin, the longshot independent presidential candidate highlighted Trump’s attacks on the Khan family in his response.

Not all veterans groups and veterans were bothered by the GOP nominee’s take on who can handle the stress of war, though.

Retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn released a statement in Trump’s defense on Monday, blaming the media for taking the GOP nominee’s remarks “out of context in order to deceive voters and veterans.”

As quoted in an ABC News report, Flynn said that Trump’s comments were “highlighting the challenges veterans face when returning home after serving their country.”

Marine Staff Sgt. Chad Robichaux, who posed the initial question about mental health services to Trump at the Virginia event, also released a statement saying it was “sickening that anyone would twist Mr. Trump’s comments,” which he said were “thoughtful and understanding of the struggles many veterans have.”

“It is true that not everyone can handle traumatic events,” the Veterans of Foreign Wars said in a statement to ABC News. “Regarding veterans, we need to treat those who need help and research how two people experiencing the same time and place can be impacted so differently.”

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