GOP hope­ful takes flak on PTSD is­sue

Dems, vets ac­cuse Trump of in­sen­si­tiv­ity

Baltimore Sun - - ELECTION 2016 - By Katie Zez­ima

Democrats on Tues­day seized on com­ments Don­ald Trump made sug­gest­ing that mil­i­tary mem­bers and vet­er­ans with men­tal health is­sues are not “strong” and “can’t han­dle it,” re­marks they said ren­der him out of touch and un­fit to be com­man­der in chief.

The GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee, speak­ing to a group of vet­er­ans Mon­day in Vir­ginia, said that some troops see things in com­bat that “a lot of folks in the room” have seen many times.

“And you’re strong and you can han­dle it, but a lot of peo­ple can’t han­dle it,” Trump said.

The back­lash to his re­marks was swift and harsh, with Democrats and vet­er­ans groups as­sail­ing him as in­sen­si­tive to an is­sue that men­tal health ad­vo­cates have spent decades work­ing to des­tig­ma­tize and raise aware­ness of among vet­er­ans.

“This is an ig­no­rant man,” Vice Pres­i­dent Joe Bi­den said of Trump on CNN on Tues­day.

An an­gry Bi­den re­counted go­ing to Iraq and pin­ning a Sil­ver Star on a young sol­dier. The sol­dier told Bi­den that he didn’t want the Sil­ver Star be­cause the fel­low sol­dier he had pulled out of a burn­ing Humvee had died.

“That kid prob­a­bly goes to sleep ev­ery night with a night­mare, and this guy doesn’t un­der­stand any of that?” said Bi­den, whose late son served in the mil­i­tary.

Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Hil­lary Clin­ton said on Twit­ter that vet­er­ans who ex­pe­ri­ence post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der are “stronger than we’ll ever un­der­stand” and that they are owed “noth­ing short” of the best care.

Her cam­paign also pushed out an ad that ques­tions Trump’s re­spect for vet­er­ans.

Trump’s cam­paign pushed back against the crit­i­cism of his PTSD com­ments, say­ing that the me­dia took his words out of con­text “in or­der to de­ceive vot­ers and vet­er­ans” about what he said.

Trump’s web­site said the can­di­date wants to in­crease the num­ber of men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als at the Depart­ment of Vet­er­ans Af­fairs and al­low vet­er­ans to ac­cess men­tal health care out­side the agency.

Trump’s com­ments Mon­day are the lat­est in a line of ques­tion­able re­marks about the mil­i­tary that Democrats said show the nom­i­nee is not fit to serve as pres­i­dent. In July, Trump got into a feud with the Mus­lim-Amer­i­can par­ents of a sol­dier killed in Iraq af­ter they spoke at the Demo­cratic Na­tional Con­ven­tion.

Days later, a ser­vice mem­ber gave Trump a Pur­ple Heart at a cam­paign stop in Vir­ginia. The real es­tate mogul said that it was some­thing he “al­ways wanted” and that hav­ing one gifted to him was “much eas­ier” than par­tic­i­pat­ing in com­bat.

When asked what he had sac­ri­ficed, re­fer­ring to mil­i­tary par­ents’ sac­ri­fices, Trump pointed to his busi- ness suc­cesses.

And last year, Trump said he doesn’t con­sider Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who was a pris­oner of war in Viet­nam, to be a war hero. “He’s a war hero be­cause he was cap­tured,” Trump said. “I like peo­ple that weren’t cap­tured.”

In Jan­uary, Trump held a fundraiser for vet­er­ans where he said he raised about $6 mil­lion, in­clud­ing $1 mil­lion of his own money. Trump’s cam­paign said later that Trump had given his own $1 mil­lion, but that wasn’t true. Trump only do­nated the money later, af­ter news re­ports brought the is­sue to light. He also waited months to give away over $1 mil­lion that other donors had en­trusted to his Don­ald J. Trump Foun­da­tion.

In a state­ment put out by Trump’s cam­paign, the man who asked Trump the ques­tion in Vir­ginia that prompted Trump’s re­marks on PTSD said he took Trump to mean that the health care sys­tem for vet­er­ans is bro­ken.

Marine Staff Sgt. Chad Ro­bichaux, pres­i­dent and founder of Mighty Oaks War­rior Pro­grams in Te­mec­ula, Calif., said he has strug­gled with PTSD and has helped nearly 1,100 vet­er­ans who also suf­fer from the dis­or­der.

“I think it’s sick­en­ing that any­one would twist Mr. Trump’s com­ments to me in or­der to pur­sue a po­lit­i­cal agenda,” he said. “I took his com­ments to be thought­ful and un­der­stand­ing of the strug­gles many vet­er­ans have, and I be­lieve he is com­mit­ted to help­ing them.”

Ac­cord­ing to the VA, from 11 per­cent to 20 per­cent of vet­er­ans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan af­ter 2002 suf­fer from post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der in a given year. Of those who served in the first Gulf War, 12 per­cent suf­fer from PTSD in a given year, as do 15 per­cent of Viet­nam War vet­er­ans.

“PTSD can hap­pen to any­one. It is not a sign of weak­ness,” the depart­ment’s web­site reads.

RALPH FRESO/GETTY

GOP pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Don­ald Trump ral­lies sup­port­ers Tues­day in Prescott Val­ley, Ariz.

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