Trump: Soldiers With PTSD Aren’t ‘Strong’

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Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives a thumbs up after a town hall, Tuesday, Sept. 6, 2016, in Virginia Beach, Va.
L. Todd Spencer/The Virginian-Pilot via AP

Republican presidential nominee Donald J. Trump raised eyebrows among many veterans Monday morning during a campaign appearance with the Retired American Warriors PAC in Virginia.


Trump was asked about treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder and military suicide. Here’s the quote that got him in trouble:

"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."

Evan McMullin, an independent conservative candidate for president who served with the CIA, said on Twitter that Trump’s remarks “aren’t just insulting, they’re dangerous.”

The key issue here is that Trump associates not having PTSD with being “strong.”

RELATED: 8 common myths about PTSD debunked »

That rhetoric paints people who have been through traumatic events as “weak” rather than people who are having naturally recurring symptoms surrounding their traumatic event and need some help.

Paul Rieckhoff, the executive director and founder of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, tweeted about how such language can “discourage people from getting help for mental health injuries.”

“Getting help is a sign of strength,” he wrote.

Last year, Task & Purpose called the perception that PTSD was a sign of mental weakness the number one myth surrounding the disorder. The piece was written by Pamela Holtz, a U.S. Army Reserve officer pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology at the University of North Texas, who specializes in combat trauma, military sexual trauma, and stigma.

"Developing PTSD is not a sign of weakness, be it mental weakness or weakness of character,” Holtz wrote. “It is an understandable human response to uncommon experiences.”

In response to the criticism surrounding his remarks, the Trump campaign released a statement through a surrogate, retired Army Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn.

“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, as quoted by Politico. “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 himself never served in the military, receiving four draft deferments for college during the Vietnam War, and one for heel spurs in his feet, a condition that never appeared to plague him before and has not appeared in medical records since.

In a 1997 interview with radio host Howard Stern, Trump referred to his ability to not contract sexually transmitted infections in his dating life to service in Vietnam.

“I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world. It is a dangerous world out there — it’s scary, like Vietnam. Sort of like the Vietnam era,” Trump said. “It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave soldier.”

Joel Marrable (Laquna Ross via CNN)

Dawn Brys got an early taste of the crisis unfolding at the largest Veterans Affairs hospital in the Southeast.

The Air Force vet said she went to the Atlanta VA Medical Center in Decatur last year for surgery on a broken foot. But the doctor called it off because the surgical instruments hadn't been properly sterilized.

"The tools had condensation on them," recalled Brys, a 50-year-old Marietta resident. The doctor rescheduled it for the next day.

Now the 400-plus-bed hospital on Clairmont Road that serves about 120,000 military veterans is in a state of emergency. It suspended routine surgeries in late September after a string of incidents that exposed mismanagement and dangerous practices. It hopes to resume normal operations by early November as it struggles to retrain staff and hire new nurses.

The partial shutdown came about two weeks after Joel Marrable, a cancer patient in the same VA complex, was found covered with more than 100 ant bites by his daughter. Also in September, the hospital's canteen was temporarily closed for a pest investigation.

The mounting problems triggered a leadership shakeup Sept. 17, when regional director Leslie Wiggins was put on administrative leave. Dr. Arjay K. Dhawan, the regional medical director, was moved to administrative duties pending an investigation. Seven staff members were reassigned to non-patient care.

The only question for some military veterans and staff is why the VA waited so long. They say problems existed for years under Wiggins' leadership, but little was done.

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