Trump’s com­ments on sol­diers with men­tal health is­sues crit­i­cized by vets’ groups

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jonathan Lemire and Jill Colvin

HERNDON, VIR­GINIA >> Don­ald Trump is draw­ing scorn from vet­er­ans’ groups af­ter he sug­gested that sol­diers who suf­fer from men­tal health is­sues might not be as strong as those who don’t.

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.

The com­ment drew con­dem­na­tion from crit­ics as well as vet­er­ans’ groups that have been work­ing for years to re­duce the stigma as­so­ci­ated with men­tal health is­sues in an ef­fort to en­cour­age sol­diers to seek treat­ment.

David Maulsby, the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Tex­as­based PTSD Foun­da­tion of Amer­ica, told The As­so­ci­ated Press that, at first, he hoped Trump’s re­marks had been taken out of con­text. But af­ter watch­ing a record­ing of the ex­change, he said the Repub­li­can nom­i­nee’s words were detri­men­tal to vet­er­ans strug­gling with PTSD symp­toms.

“At the very least, it’s a very poor choice of words. PTSD is ba­si­cally a rewiring of the brain as the re­sult of trauma or pro­longed trauma. That is not a re­flec­tion of a per­son’s strength, char­ac­ter, stamina — any of that,” Maulsby said.

“Our vet­er­ans who are strug­gling with post-trau­matic stress as a re­sult of their com­bat need to be en­cour­aged to seek help, and not be told they are weak or de­fi­cient in char­ac­ter in any way, shape or form,” he said.

Zach Is­col, a Ma­rine vet­eran and ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the non­profit Head­strong Project, which helps pro­vide free care for vet­er­ans suf­fer­ing from PTSD, said Trump’s com­ments weren’t “just wrong, they’re dan­ger­ous.”

“The big­gest bar­rier we have to peo­ple get­ting help is the stigma of get­ting help,” he said. “It just shows a com­plete mis­un­der­stand­ing of what post­trau­matic stress dis­or­der is.”

Re­tired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a top Trump ad­viser, re­sponded with a state­ment that ac­cused the me­dia of tak­ing the GOP nom­i­nee’s words out of con­text “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.

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