Donald Trump on Monday suggested to a room full of veterans that soldiers who return from war suffering from PTSD are not "strong" and "can't handle it."
The GOP presidential candidate's statement came during a Q&A at the Retired American Warriors PAC. Some of the questions were about the suicide epidemic in the military and criticism of the Veterans Administration (VA) for falling short on providing veterans with the mental health treatment they need.
After saying there are around 22 veteran suicides a day, Trump explained to the room of veterans what PTSD was.
“When people come back from war and combat and they see maybe what the people 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. "They see horror stories, they see events that you couldn’t see in a movie, nobody would believe it.
"Now we need a mental health help and medical," Trump continued, "and it's one of the things I think is least addressed and it's one of the things I hear ... most about when I go around and talk to the veterans."
Trump obtained four deferments from the draft into the Vietnam War before being medically disqualified from serving in the military in 1968.
Following a request for response to Trump's statements, the Camp Hope PTSD Foundation emailed BuzzFeed News this screenshot, tweeted after Trump's statement.
Jon Soltz, a veteran of the Iraq war and the chairman of the Vote Vets organization, sent BuzzFeed News a statement calling Trump's remarks "horrible" but "not shocking."
"We’re talking about a person, in Trump, who believes that POWs aren’t real heroes," Soltz wrote, a reference to when Trump said Sen. John McCain — who was captured during the Vietnam War — was "not a war hero." Trump also said he's made sacrifices similar to those of Gold Star Families, who lost loved ones in war.
"The constant disrespect Donald Trump shows towards our veterans and service members is sickening, and completely and totally disqualifying," Soltz said.
Iraq War veteran and Purple Heart recipient Will Fischer sent similar comments to BuzzFeed News. "Trump’s comments about veterans with PTSD reveal his total disdain for veterans and military families and highlight just how disconnected he is with our community," Fischer wrote.
"Trump’s whole campaign is littered with disrespect toward our military and veterans with calls to destroy and privatize the VA," he said. "Veterans deserve a leader and commander-in-chief who respects our contributions and experiences and doesn’t belittle us or deprive us of the resources we need to have a chance at the American dream.”
In response to a request for comment, Trump's campaign sent BuzzFeed News a statement from 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. 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.
Earlier in the Retired American Warriors town hall, Trump said that he was thinking up policies that would help fill in the gaps that the VA was leaving in treating mental health. He said his plan is to enable the government to pay for the health care of veterans, not just at VA clinics, but at any public or private hospital.
The plan is mostly needed, Trump said, because of lines at the VA clinics.
"People are killing themselves waiting on line because they have days and days before what could be a simple procedure, a simple prescription, and the wait is so long, they can't take it," Trump said.
Marine Staff Sgt. Chad Robichaux, the veteran who asked Donald Trump the question about PTSD and the VA, released a statement Monday afternoon about the public reaction to Trump's statements:
I think it’s sickening that anyone would twist Mr. Trump’s comments to me in order to pursue a political agenda. I took his comments to be thoughtful and understanding of the struggles many veterans have, and I believe he is committed to helping them. The nature of my question focused on a broken system that’s failing so many of our veterans and, as president, would Mr. Trump take a more holistic approach to health care for veterans.During a campaign stop for Hillary Clinton in Sarasota, Florida Joe Biden spoke passionately in response to Trump's comments, "Where in the hell is he from?" Biden asked the crowd, before bringing up his recently deceased son Beau Biden, who was a veteran.
I interpreted his answer to affirm that the system is broken and he would take the necessary steps to address it. After eight combat tours in Afghanistan I came home and was diagnosed with PTSD, and I struggled with it. Since my own recovery I’ve been privileged to help 1100 veterans who have graduated from our program; none of whom have committed suicide since graduating. It’s a very important issue to me, which is why I was thankful for the opportunity to ask Mr. Trump about it directly.
"I don't think he was trying to be mean," Biden said about Trump, "he is just so thoroughly, completely uninformed. ... We only have one sacred obligation, to care for those we send to war and to care for them and their families when they come home."
The Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America sent BuzzFeed News a statement about the importance of language when talking about PTSD.
"Every national leader has a responsibility to use accurate and appropriate language when talking about mental health and suicide especially," IAVA CEO Paul Rieckhoff wrote wrote. "Terms like 'killing yourself' or 'mental problems' or any suggestion that suicide only impacts the weak, can promote contagion and may discourage people from getting help."
He added that "getting help for a mental health injury is not a sign of weakness, it's a demonstration of strength."
Watch Trump's statement and the rest of the town hall here:
The full transcript of his answer is below:
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, and they see horror stories, they see events that you couldn't see in a movie, nobody would believe it. Now we need a mental health help and medical and it's one of the things that I think is least addressed and it's one of the things I hear — like your question — one of the things I hear most about when I go around and talk to the veterans.
So we're going to 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 have proper care.
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. Ok? Thank you very much.
Ema O'Connor is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
Contact Ema O'Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Got a confidential tip? Submit it here.