A newly created political group called Retired American Warriors PAC hosted an event in Virginia this morning, and Donald Trump's willingness to participate was itself somewhat controversial. The Republican presidential hopeful was, after all, appearing alongside Family Research Council's right-wing chief, Tony Perkins, as well as Jerry Boykin, whose radicalism was too much for the Bush/Cheney administration.But as Right Wing Watch noted, it's what Trump said at this morning's event that's likely to generate headlines.
When asked how he would approach mental health issues such as PTSD and if he would support spiritual counseling for veterans affected by them, Trump implied that veterans who are "strong" don't suffer from such afflictions."When you talk about the mental health problems," he said, "when people come back from war and combat and they see things that maybe a lot of the folks in the room have seen many times over and you're strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can't handle it."
There is, of course, a video of the exchange.One of the most striking things about comments like these is just how slow a learner Donald Trump really is. After a year and a half on the presidential campaign trail, the Republican nominee -- who routinely boasts about how pro-veteran he is -- still seems to believe only "strong" servicemen and women "can handle" combat without suffering from PTSD or needing mental-health treatment.That's not how this works. To effectively argue that veterans with PTSD are somehow weak is both wrong and insulting. The fact that Trump, even now, still doesn't understand the basics of this issue is extraordinary.And so too is his history of campaign missteps when it comes to veterans.The most obvious example was Trump boasting last year that prisoners of war aren't heroes because, as he put it, "I like people who weren't captured."But as regular readers may recall, this is really just the start. The Republican nominee, for example, has drawn criticism for supporting a privatization plan for veterans’ care. His associations with the sketchy Veterans for a Strong America exacerbated the problem.
And it certainly didn’t help matters when Trump, who avoided military service during the Vietnam War, said he “felt” like he’d served in the military because his parents sent him to a military-themed boarding school as a teenager. The Republican went so far as to boast that his expensive prep school gave him “more training militarily than a lot of the guys that go into the military.”What's more, Trump, who got caught lying about his financial support for veterans’ charities, has claimed more than once that he understands counter-terrorism better than American generals.If this is Trump's way of earning the support of veterans and their families, it's a curious strategy.Update: In a written statement, retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a leading Trump adviser, said Trump's words were taken "out of context," and the candidate "was highlighting the challenges veterans face when returning home after serving their country."I don't think the context helps. Trump was asked about counseling and treatment options, and he responded with the following answer:
“When you talk about the mental health problems when people come back from war and combat and they see things maybe a lot of things people in this room have seen many times over and you’re strong and you can handle it, they can’t handle it."They see horror stories, they see events you couldn’t see in a movie, no one would believe it. We need a mental health and medical and its’ one of the things that’s least addressed and it’s one of the things I hear the most about when I go around and talk to veterans. We’re going to have a robust, very robust performance having to do with mental health."
The full video of this morning's event is online here.Second Update: The person at today's forum who asked the question, Marine Staff Sergeant Chad Robichaux, also issued a statement taking Trump's side. “I think it’s sickening that anyone would twist Mr. Trump’s comments to me in order to pursue a political agenda," Robichaux said in part. "I took his comments to be thoughtful and understanding of the struggles many veterans have, and I believe he is committed to helping them."Again, he's obviously entitled to his opinion, but quoting Trump's words directly is not an example of "twisting" anything.