Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump on Monday told an audience of veterans that "a lot of people can't handle" post-traumatic stress, igniting controversy on the sticking points of discussing mental health among troops and veterans.
"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," Trump said during a question-and-answer session with Retired American Warriors, a political action committee, in Herndon, Va.
"And you're strong and you can handle it, but a lot of people can't handle it," he said.
The remarks touched off charged discussion on Twitter as commentators took at least two positions: Trump appearing to characterize veterans with PTSD as weak on one hand, and Trump indelicately describing the complexities of trauma that could lead to avoidance of help on the other.
"I mean, I guess by reinforcing stigma (strong soldiers don't get PTSD!), he's doing his part to keep those VA lines short!" tweeted Ana Marie Cox, a political and culture columnist at MTV News and New York Times Magazine. Cox, with 1.3 million followers on Twitter, drove commentary early on.
Eduardo Colon replied to Cox, saying "Vet with PTSD here -- I can't wait for this election to be over with -- hopefully trump will disappear." Other veterans offered restraint over the comments. "Trump isn't even close to enlightened on mental health issues. But hard to watch that and think he was implying PTSD sufferers are weak," tweeted Max Rosenthal, a reporter with Mother Jones and an Army veteran.
Trump went on to say he would have a "very robust level of performance" at the Department of Veterans Affairs in his administration, offering few details.
He also incorrectly repeated the number of veteran suicides at 22 a day, a figure that has been disputed by veterans groups due to uneven collection of data from less than half of states nationwide.
A VA study released in July lowered the figure to 20 a day — a number that shows deeper data analysis and not necessarily a decline in suicides.
One VA page of PTSD facts ends with "Getting help for PTSD is problem solving, not a sign of weakness."