Donald Trump drew criticism for his remarks Monday that many interpreted as reinforcing a stigma that veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder are weak. Trump's supporters responded by saying the remarks were badly taken out of context.
Here's what Trump said after being asked about his plans to curb veterans' suicides at an event organized by the Retired American Warriors PAC in Northern Virginia:
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 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. They see horror stories, they see events you couldn't see in a movie, nobody would believe it ...
"You know when you hear the 22 suicides a day, it's a 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 going to 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 number one thing we have to do because I think it's really been left behind."
Critics took exception to Trump's portrayal of the victims of PTSD as being people who "can't handle" the things they saw in war, in contrast to the room of veterans he was addressing, who are "strong" and who "can handle it."
"Where in the hell is he from?" an emotional Vice President Biden asked in reference to Trump's comments — Biden confessed he had only been told about Trump's comments and had not heard them firsthand. "I don't think he was trying to be mean. He is just so thoroughly, completely uninformed."
The VA's National Center for PTSD says, "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."
Many felt the line about some veterans not being able to "handle it" was taken out of context.
"Mr. Trump was highlighting the challenges veterans face when returning home after serving their country," said Trump surrogate Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn in a statement. "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.
“I think it’s sickening that anyone would twist Mr. Trump’s comments to me in order to pursue a political agenda,” said former Marine staff sergeant Chad Robichaux, who asked the question that led to Trump's controversial response. “I took his comments to be thoughtful and understanding of the struggles many veterans have, and I believe he is committed to helping them.”
Paul Rieckhoff, the founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, didn't attack Trump as vociferously as other but rather said the incident illustrates just how complex an issue PTSD is. "When political leaders talk about things like PTSD and suicide, they need to be responsible and precise," Rieckhoff told the Hollywood Reporter. "And unfortunately Trump is not a precise person.”