Donald Trump: Some veterans are not 'strong enough' to handle the mental health damage from war
Donald Trump has sparked a social media firestorm by telling a group of military veterans that some members of the military develop mental health issues because they are not "strong," and "can't handle it."
The Republican presidential contender was in northern Virginia on Monday morning, where he held a question and answer session with a group of pro-Trump military members. He criticised the Obama administration for failing the country’s veterans – an oft-repeated refrain – and was asked about mental health problems among the military.
"When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat, they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in this room have seen many times over,” he said.
“And you're strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can't handle it.
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"And they see horror stories, they see events that you couldn’t see in a movie — nobody would believe it."
Mr Trump’s words were seized upon by his opponents.
Mental health advocates have been trying for decades to destigmatise depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and other issues in hopes of empowering people to not be afraid to seek medical help. Many service members think that they should handle these issues on their own and that asking for help is a sign of weakness.
Suicide has become an epidemic among veterans, and more than 20 end their lives each day.
“Where the hell is he from?” said an incredulous Joe Biden, the vice president, shortly after hearing of Mr Trump’s comments. “This is deadly earnest."
He told the crowd in Florida, gathered for a rally to support Hillary Clinton, how his late son Beau came back after a year in Iraq as a highly-decorated veteran. He told how he has “been in and out of Iraq and Afghanistan 29 times.”
And then he recalled an incident in Iraq, when General Ray Odiano, a four star general, asked Mr Biden to pin a silver medal on a young captain who had pulled someone out of a burning Humvee.
“And he stood in front of the whole brigade and said: ‘No, Mr Vice President. I don’t want it. He died,’” said Mr Biden, his voice trembling in fury.
“How many nights does that kid not go to sleep? Seeing that vision?”
He told how he carried in his pocket every day a list of his engagements, and on it a list of the total number of American soldiers dead in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Every one of those warriors left behind a family. A community,” he said. “Over 200,000 coming home with unseen wounds.
“I don’t think he was trying to be mean. He is just so thoroughly, completely uninformed.”
Mr Trump's campaign defended the candidate's comments, and accused the media of taking his words out of context.
“The media continues to operate as the propaganda arm of Hillary Clinton as they took Mr Trump’s words out of context in order to deceive voters and veterans — an appalling act that shows they are willing to go to any length to carry water for their candidate of choice," said retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, one of Mr Trump's top advisers, in a statement.
"Mr Trump was highlighting the challenges veterans face when returning home after serving their country."
Marine Staff Sgt. Chad Robichaux, whose question Mr Trump was answering in his remarks, issued a statement after the event calling it "sickening that anyone would twist Mr Trump’s comments."
He added: "I took his comments to be thoughtful and understanding of the struggles many veterans have."
Clinton v Trump | Key quotes
"Donald just criticised me for preparing for this debate. And, yes, I did. You know what else I prepared for? I prepared to be president."
"I call it 'Trumped Up, Trickle Down' because that's exactly what it would be." - Clinton on Trump's economic plan
"Donald, I know you live in your own reality, but those are not the facts."
"He tried to put the whole racist birther lie to bed. But it can't be dismissed that easily. He has really started his political activity based on this racist lie that our first black president was not an American citizen."
"As soon as he travels to 112 countries and negotiates a peace deal, a ceasefire, a release of dissidents... or even spends 11 hours testifying in front of a congressional committee, he can talk to me about stamina." - On Trump's claims that she doesn't have stamina
"In inner cities, African-Americans, Hispanics, are living in hell because it's so dangerous. You walk down the street, you get shot."
"All talk, no action, sounds good, never going to work. Our country is suffering because of people like Secretary Clinton."
"Let me tell you, Hillary has experience. But it's bad, bad experience."
"I will release my tax returns against my lawyer's wishes when she releases her 33 000 e-mails that have been deleted."
"Typical politician. All talk, no action. Sounds good, doesn't work. Never going to happen."