The author is a Purple Heart Recipient, Iraq War (WIA 10 October 2004)
Since the start of the Republican primaries it seems like a week can’t go by without Donald Trump saying something that offends a different demographic of people in our country. But his deep ignorance of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) risks spreading a calamitous lie about a disease shared by 24 million Americans, many of whom are combat veterans like myself.
This isn’t the first time Trump has made disparaging comments towards America’s service men and women, but this time might be the most dangerous.
“When you talk about mental health problems,” said Trump. “When people come back from war and combat-and they see things that maybe a lot of folks in this room have seen many times over and you’re strong and can handle it, but a lot of people can’t handle it”
This issue is near and dear to me, probably more than any other.
My war was twelve years ago… and yesterday. I may have left the war but it doesn’t feel that way. I see the war when I stare at nothing, I hear it when the room is quiet and I feel it every night in my dreams. My battle is far from over, but for too many of my friends, their battle ended when they took their own life. Does this make me weak, does this make my friends weak? Trump might think it does, but how could someone who deferred five times have any understanding of my struggles with PTSD?
I’m not bothered by the implication that I can’t handle my PTSD as well as Trump thinks I should. What worries me far more than that is his comments continue to feed the viscous narrative that service members who ask for help are weak. This is the reason why we lose so many of our Veteran brothers and sisters to suicide. It’s the fear of how they will be perceived when they ask for help. I went through it and many others are still going through it.
In 2004, there wasn’t much talk about mental health screenings or treatments. We would keep it all to ourselves until that inevitable time would come when we couldn’t push anymore down and it would boil over and we would break down. Luckily, it seems the military and Veterans Affairs have made changes and are heading in the right direction, but all of that will be for nothing until we end the idea that if someone asks for help they’re weak. That’s the dangerous thing, that’s the part that needs to be fixed. It is hard enough on its own to try and fix, but now we have a nominee for President of the United States repeating this deadly myth I’ve been fighting against for twelve years.
What my fellow veterans need to hear from our leaders is that they aren’t alone. There are people here that will stand next to them and fight these battle with them. Asking for help doesn’t make you weak, I believe it’s exactly the opposite. The ability to know yourself and know when you need help, that makes you strong. Stronger than Donald Trump will ever be.