Donald Trump, yet again, made headlines all over the internet, and PTSD shot to the top of Twitter’s trending list when he spoke about the mental health condition during a town hall in Herndon, Virginia, Monday.
Trump was speaking at an event organized by the Retired American Warriors political action committee Monday when he was asked about his commitment to faith-based programs aimed at preventing suicides and helping soldiers suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injury and other issues.
“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,” he said.
“And they see horror stories. They see events that you couldn’t see in a movie, nobody would believe it,” he added.
To some, the comment was immediately offensive, as they felt Trump was suggesting soldiers who suffer from PTSD are weak. But for others, the Republican presidential nominee’s words were being mischaracterized.
One of the first to come to Trump’s defense was the man who asked him about the issue — Marine Staff Sgt. Chad Robichaux, president and founder of Mighty Oaks Warrior Program.
“I think it’s sickening that anyone would twist Mr. Trump’s comments to me in order to pursue a political agenda,” Robichaux told the Washington Times. “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 Marine, who has struggled with PTSD, argued Trump’s comments have been taken out of context.
“After eight combat tours in Afghanistan, I came home and was diagnosed with PTSD, and I struggled with it,” he said. “Since my own recovery, I’ve been privileged to help 1,100 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 am thankful for the opportunity to ask Mr. Trump about it directly.”
And some in the media supported Trump, as well. Boston Globe columnist Scott Gilmore said Trump’s entire statement on the matter was “actually sympathetic” — a reaction with which CNBC correspondent John Harwood agreed.
Nevertheless, there were a few who were frustrated by the gaffe.
I guess my buddy who I deployed with, who suffered from PTSD, and who took his own life wasn't as strong as a roomful of Trump's supporters. https://t.co/iLb5V4PYs8— Corbin Reiff (@CorbinReiff) October 3, 2016
Yeah, this part is not helpful. "Being strong" and/or "being able to handle it" is the wrong message on PTSD/suicide and perpetuates stigma. https://t.co/Ev3rUuueeA— Paul (PJ) Rieckhoff (@PaulRieckhoff) October 3, 2016
But retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a senior advisor to Trump, came to the GOP candidate’s defense, claiming in a statement that the media is using Trump’s words against him, “to deceive voters and veterans.”
Flynn said Trump has been highlighting the challenges veterans face when returning home and “has always respected the service and sacrifice of our military men and women.”
Trump has vowed to make improving veterans’ mental health services a top priority if he makes it to the White House.
Trump previously angered veterans when he suggested that Sen. John McCain, a former POW, was only considered a war hero because he was captured.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.