Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is facing a backlash from American veterans, including Vice President Joe Biden, after he suggested that a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) was a reflection of veterans' strength.
Trump made the remark at an event organized by the Retired American Warriors PAC in Virginia, after he was asked about programs designed to prevent suicides and treat PTSD and traumatic brain injury in soldiers. While Trump delivered his answer with the appearance of sympathy, critics condemned him for his initial response.
“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,” Trump said.
Trump’s campaign has insisted that his remarks on PTSD were taken out of context and he was not calling sufferers of the condition weak, however, leaders of veteran support groups said Trump’s comment worsens stigmas already surrounding PTSD in America.
“’Being strong’ and/or ‘being able to handle it’ is the wrong message on PTSD/suicide and perpetuates a stigma,” wrote Paul Rieckoff, the CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, in a Tweet. “Every national leader has a responsibility to use accurate and appropriate language when talking about mental health and suicide especially.”
According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, approximately 60 percent of men and 50 percent of women experience PTSD at least once in their lives due to a potentially life-threatening trauma that is either shocking or dangerous. The National Center for PTSD states: “PTSD can happen to anyone. It is not a sign of weakness. A number of factors can increase the chance that someone will develop PTSD, many of which are not under that person’s control.”
Vice President Biden expressed similar feelings while campaigning for Clinton in Sarasota, Fl., on Monday. While speaking to the crowd, Biden talked of his late son, Iraq veteran Beau Biden, who was awarded a Bronze Star for bravery during his service. Biden questioned Trump’s understanding of the challenges veterans face. “What are the chances Trump honors commitment to those who are wounded? It’s not just that he doesn’t get it. He doesn’t want to find out,” Biden said.
Trump announced plans to make veteran’s mental health a priority if he should become president, in order to ”have a 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."
PTSD is a war many soldiers fight long after they’ve left the battlefield, and it makes a transition back to civilian life particularly challenging, according to mental health professionals. The most common symptoms of PTSD, which may not surface for months or even years after the event, include recurring memories or nightmares, sleeplessness, loss of interest, feelings of numbness, anger or irritability, or being constantly on guard.
Persistent symptoms can disrupt a person’s ability from having a normal, healthy life, which is why veterans should speak with their doctor, a mental health professional, local VA Medical Center, or a faith-based adviser for help.
Veterans suffering from PTSD are also more likely to report an unsatisfying sex life. Read here.