Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump has been widely criticised for mischaracterising military veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as not “strong” and unable to “handle” their experiences of combat.
Mr Trump participated in a Q&A with veterans on Monday in Virginia, where he was asked about PTSD, the high rate of veteran suicides and whether the US Veterans Administration (VA) ought to take a more “holistic” and “spiritual” approach to tackling mental health.
The property mogul responded positively to the suggestion, promising a “very, very robust” approach to veterans’ mental health under a Trump administration.
He also said: “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.”
The remarks were reportedly met with silence from the audience, and soon generated a backlash on social media.
Mr Trump was criticised for perpetuating the misconception that victims of PTSD are somehow to blame for their condition as a result of personal weakness. The veterans’ website Task and Purpose cites that idea as one of the stigmatising “myths” around PTSD that can dissuade suffering service members from seeking treatment.
“Developing PTSD is not a sign of weakness, be it mental weakness or weakness of character. It is an understandable human response to uncommon experiences,” the website explains.
Up to 20 per cent of military veterans who served in Afghanistan and Iraq have PTSD, according to VA estimates. Not for the first time, Mr Trump suggested there were some 22 veteran suicides per day in the US; a recent VA study found that the actual number is 20.
Mr Trump’s campaign released a statement responding to the criticism, in which retired US Army lieutenant general Michael Flynn accused the media of taking Mr Trump’s words “out of context” in a deliberate attempt to “deceive voters and veterans."Reuse content