Sunday 26 January 2020

New gaffe as Trump questions mental strength of troops

VP Biden leads attacks on mogul, asking: 'Where the hell is he from?'

Donald Trump
Donald Trump
Hillary Clinton

Ruth Sherlock in Washington

US Vice-President Joe Biden has accused Donald Trump of"ignorance" over his remark that some members of the military develop mental health issues because they are not "strong," and "can't handle it".

"How can he be so out of touch?" Mr Biden asked in an interview with CNN yesterday. He said Mr Trump was "not a bad man". But he added: "His ignorance is profound, so profound."

The Republican presidential candidate caused fury among military men and mental health professionals when he made the controversial remarks during a question and answer session with veterans in Virginia.

"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. And they see horror stories, they see events that you couldn't see in a movie - nobody would believe it."

While Mr Trump appeared sympathetic to the problem, his diagnosis, linking post-traumatic stress to someone's mental strength, goes against the work of doctors who have spent decades trying to destigmatise depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Many service members think 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.

"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," said David Maulsby, the executive director of the Texas-based PTSD Foundation of America.

Mr Biden, whose late son Beau was a highly decorated veteran, seemed personally offended by the comments. "Where the hell is he from?" he asked a crowd in Florida, gathered for a rally to support Hillary Clinton.

He said he carried in his pocket every day a list of his engagements, and on it a list of the number of American soldiers killed 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 comments.

"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."

Earlier, Trump tried to transform the controversy surrounding the 1995 tax document published by the 'New York Times' into a positive message, boasting that he had kept his business afloat when many others went under.

Ms Clinton accused him of "taking from America with both hands" following revelations that he may have legally avoided paying income tax for almost two decades.

"The news media is now obsessed with an alleged tax filing from the 1990s, at the end of a recession," he said at a rally in Colorado.

"What had been a booming economy in the year of Ronald Reagan faced near collapse. We'd never seen anything like it. Many business people, including some of my friends, were not able to survive." He said his businesses had come back "bigger" and "stronger". He said he had created "thousands and thousands of jobs" with his "talent" for business.

Contrasting himself with Ms Clinton, he claimed the Democratic nominee "never created a single job in her life". He again boasted that he had "brilliantly" used tax law in such a way as to pay "as little tax as possible".

With only five weeks to go until election day, Mr Trump's campaign has been thrown into disarray with a series of missteps and scandals that have seen his poll numbers atrophy.

A new poll of likely voters by Politico/Morning Consult taken this week showed Ms Clinton beating her rival by seven points in a two-way contest.

But Mr Trump's strategists have struggled to develop a coherent response to the documents published by the 'New York Times' over the weekend, which showed that the Republican nominee was able legally to avoid paying federal taxes for 18 years after his companies lost nearly $916m in a single year.

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