Donald Trump Under Fire for Comments on Veterans With PTSD

Trump seemed to imply that service members who were "strong" could "handle it."

ByABC News
October 3, 2016, 3:51 PM

— -- Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is getting flak today for comments he made in response to a question about what he would do to address post-traumatic stress disorder and suicides among veterans.

"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, speaking Monday morning at a panel for the Retired American Warriors PAC in Virginia.

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Trump also said that mental health care for veterans needs to be improved.

"We need mental health and medical, and it's one of the things that is least addressed and one of the things — one of the things that I hear most about when I go around and talk to the veterans," he said. "So we are going to have a very robust, very, 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," Trump said.

Reaction was quick on Twitter to some of his remarks, with many users saying a diagnosis of PTSD is no reflection on a person's strength.

The CEO of Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, Paul Rieckhoff, tweeted that Trump’s remark "perpetuates stigma."

The Trump campaign said Trump's comments were taken out of context.

"Mr. Trump was highlighting the challenges veterans face when returning home after serving their country. He has always respected the service and sacrifice of our military men and women — proposing reforms to Veteran Affairs to adequately address the various issues veterans face when they return home," said Trump campaign surrogate Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn said in a statement.

Flynn continued, "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."

Also coming to Trump's defense was the military member who posed the question about PTSD at today's forum.

"I think it's sickening that anyone would twist Mr. Trump's comments to me in order to pursue a political agenda," read a statement from Marine Staff Sgt. Chad Robichaux, who was diagnosed with PTSD after eight combat tours in Afghanistan, overcame PTSD and now runs the Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs in California that helps veterans with PTSD. "I took his comments to be thoughtful and understanding of the struggles many veterans have, and I believe he is committed to helping them."

The Veterans of Foreign Wars weighed in as well.

"It is true that not everyone can handle traumatic events, be it from war, bad car accidents, violent crime or even surviving a hurricane," a VFW national spokesman said in response to Trump's comments in a statement provided to ABC News. "Regarding veterans, we need to treat those who need help and research how two people experiencing the same time and place can be impacted so differently."

Trump also said at the forum that it "should never be" that 22 veterans per day commit suicide, referring to a 2013 analysis by the Department of Veterans Affairs showing 22 veterans dying by suicide each day. A report released Aug. 3 showed that number is down slightly, to 20 veterans committing suicide per day, accounting for 18 percent of suicides among U.S. adults.

Trump has gotten into hot water with some in the military community before. In July 2015 he said Arizona Sen. John McCain, who spent over five years as a prisoner during the Vietnam War, was "not a war hero."

"I like people that weren't captured," Trump said at the time.

In July of this year he criticized Khizr and Ghazala Khan, the parents of U.S. Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed during the Iraq War in 2004. Trump took aim at Khizr Khan after he criticized the Republican nominee during a speech at the Democratic National Convention.

ABC News' Justin Fishel contributed to this report.

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