Donald Trump sparked a furor Monday about post-traumatic stress among soldiers that news outlets and even the White House called insensitive and ignorant, though the head of a veteran’s group who asked the question called the criticism of Mr. Trump “sickening.”
At a town hall style meeting hosted by the Retired American Warriors PAC, Marine Staff Sgt. Chad Robichaux, president and founder of Mighty Oaks Warrior Programs, asked Mr. Trump whether he would advocate for religious programs as an optional part of helping military members suffering from PTSD, traumatic brain injury and other health problems.
Mr. Trump said he would support those kinds of programs.
“When you talk about the mental health problems, 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,” he said. “But a lot of people can’t handle it.”
The comments sparked some criticism on Twitter and generated a series of headlines that suggested Mr. Trump was implying that people suffering from PTSD are weak.
At a Hillary Clinton campaign rally in Sarasota, Florida, Vice President Joseph R. Biden grew animated as he read aloud to the audience the comments by Mr. Trump, calling the Republican “uninformed.”
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Mr. Biden recalled attempting to pin a medal on a soldier in Iraq who declined the honor because he was anguished about being unable to save someone’s life. “How many nights does that kid go to sleep seeing that image in his head, dealing with it?” Mr. Biden asked, his voice rising.
The vice president said he carries a schedule in his breast pocket that includes a daily update on U.S. military casualty figures from Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Every one of those warriors left behind an entire family!” Mr. Biden shouted. “Over 200,000 coming home with unseen wounds! Twenty suicides a month.”
He said of Mr. Trump, “I don’t think he was trying to be mean. He is just so thoroughly, completely uninformed.”
But Staff Sgt. Robichaux didn’t take Mr. Trump’s remarks as insulting — quite the contrary.
“I think it’s sickening that anyone would twist Mr. Trump’s comments to me in order to pursue a political agenda,” the staff sergeant said. “I took his comments to be thoughtful and understanding of the struggles many veterans have, and I believe he is committed to helping them.”
Mr. Robichaux said Mr. Trump’s comments at the forum were taken out of context.
“I interpreted his answer to affirm that the system is broken and he would take the necessary steps to address it,” Mr. Robichaux said.
“After eight combat tours in Afghanistan I came home and was diagnosed with PTSD, and I struggled with it,” he said. “Since my own recovery I’ve been privileged to help 1,100 veterans who have graduated from our program; none of whom have committed suicide since graduating. It’s a very important issue to me, which is why I was thankful for the opportunity to ask Mr. Trump about it directly.”