Despite making a comment that implied those who struggle with mental health issues after serving the country in combat are weaker than those who don't have a diagnosis, Donald Trump doesn’t seem to be losing significant support from veterans.
Speaking at an event in Herndon, Va., organized by the Retired American Warriors political action committee Monday, Mr. Trump responded to a question about faith-based programs intended to help soldiers struggling with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), brain injuries, and other issues as a result of their service.
"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.
Trump’s controversial comments have characterized his campaign, and those involving criticism of veterans and families of military personnel have drawn harsh criticism. Last year, Trump argued that Sen. John McCain (R) of Arizona is only regarded as a war hero “because he got captured.” Then, this summer, Trump feuded with Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of a fallen American soldier, who denounced the Republican nominee’s run for president with a speech at the Democratic National Convention.
Despite these comments, Trump has polled well among veterans, carrying the group with 37.6 percent support while Hillary Clinton falls behind with 16.3 percent of the vote, the Military Times reports. And while veterans groups came out against Trump’s latest blunder Monday, others have jumped to his defense.
“I think it’s sickening that anyone would twist Mr. Trump’s comments to me in order to pursue a political agenda,” said former Marine Staff Sgt. Chad Robichaux, who was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress and posed the question to Trump Monday, said in a statement. “I took his comments to be thoughtful and understanding of the struggles many veterans have, and I believe he is committed to helping them.”
Others took to Twitter to applaud Trump for “keeping it real” and for bringing attention to the issue, The Washington Post reported. Many see his plan as an attractive attempt to combat a problem that hasn’t been appropriately addressed.
Still, some close to the issue denounced Trump’s comments, emphasizing the importance of avoiding any speech that might perpetuate stigma surrounding the treatment of mental health issues.
“Every national leader has a responsibility to use accurate and appropriate language when talking about mental health and suicide especially,” Paul Rieckhoff, the chief executive officer of the non-profit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, wrote on Twitter. “Terms like ‘killing yourself’ or ‘mental problems’, or any suggestion that suicide only impacts the weak, perpetuates stigma.... it can also promote contagion and may discourage people from getting help for mental health injuries. Getting help is a sign of strength.”
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.