I don’t know if I am going to be able to explain this. What I am going to talk about tonight is hard. It is hard for people who suffer with it to talk about or explain, and it is harder for people who have never seen what we have to understand.
I am talking about PTSD and Delayed Stress. We have heard a lot about these issues during this election. The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have highlighted these two issues and moved them to headlines in the last couple of years.
However, they have been around long before the post 9/11 wars. Those who served in Vietnam suffered from them. And, though no one likes to talk about it, people in the Coast Guard and other First Responders also suffer from them.
The sights, sounds, and smells of war are horrible. So are the sights, sounds and smells of natural and other disasters. The fact of the matter is that anyone who has made a career of being in any branch of the military or first responder jobs have the potential to suffer from either PTSD or Delayed Stress.
This morning Donald Trump was speaking at a rally in Virginia. He was speaking to a group sponsored by the Retired American Warrior political action group. During this rally one vet asked about his policies on mental help for vets. Specifically about “faith-based” therapy for those suffering and to help reduce the suicide rate.
I am sorry to say that Trump’s answer was less than ideal. He said:
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. But a lot of people can’t handle it.
And they see horror stories. They see events that you couldn’t see in a movie, nobody would believe it.
I am going to be honest. When I first heard those words my blood pressure skyrocketed. I was so angry if I had been there, I would have tried to punch Trump in the face. I heard what a lot of people heard. He was saying if we suffer from PTSD it is because we are weak and can’t handle it.
It took me a long time to calm down from that. Then, I decided I would look at it again. Was he really saying what I thought he was? I found the video of the question and answer and played it over and over. It is hard not to hear what I heard him say.
Then I decided to give him a small break. He didn’t know what he was talking about. He didn’t understand what PTSD is. He didn’t understand what those who suffer from it are going through.
But these words kept echoing through my head: “….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.”
Yes, it appears he is saying that “strong people” can handle it, but those with PTSD are weak and cannot handle it. I then listened to the rest of the answer over and over. I came to the conclusion that he never answered the question. He gave a lot of 20 second sound bites about how he is going to fix things, but never said how he was going to fix things.
The question about “faith-based” therapy is a good one. I don’t have a problem with people using faith-based therapy, as long as it isn’t the only therapy we are allowed to get. Some people rely on their religion and faith. Others do not.
In an attempt to give you enough information to understand this problem, I am going to say something I have not said openly before. I suffer from PTSD or Delayed Stress. I am not sure which. I suffer because I have seen things that people are not supposed to see. I dug out hundreds of victims of natural disasters with my hands, including children. I have been a first responder to many disasters, and they are no picnic.
I have seen the effects on people of high-speed boating accidents. I have seen the results of someone jumping from a bridge and sitting with the body waiting for the ambulance to come and take it away.
I still see those victims. I still smell the odor of death. They all come to me in memories, dreams, and other normal parts of life. I can actually be walking through a mall with my family and suddenly a burnt smell can come from the food court and I am sent back somewhere I don’t want to be. And, I have trouble sleeping at night as a result.
PTSD and Delayed Stress have come in many names throughout the years. It has been called “shell shock” for example. Only in World War I and World War II it was called “cowardice”.
A stigma has been placed on these mental health issues so that many people do not want to admit they suffer from it. Adding the insinuation that “weak people are the ones who can’t handle it” helps spread that stigma.
I am not going to accuse Donald Trump of deliberately saying what was insinuated in his comments. I am not going to say that he even meant that insinuation. But, as I have written before, words matter. Left out words can matter even more.
The problem with Donald Trump is he doesn’t understand that. Sometimes I wonder if he even cares if his words hurt people either intentionally or unintentionally.
I would expect someone running for President to understand that you need to be very careful when you talk to veterans about PTSD and Delayed Stress. At least he should learn what they are.
David Maulsby, the executive director of the Texas-based PTSD Foundation of America, told The Associated Press:
At the very least, it’s a very poor choice of words. PTSD is basically a rewiring of the brain as the result of trauma or prolonged trauma. That is not a reflection of a person’s strength, character, stamina — any of that.
Our veterans who are struggling with post-traumatic stress as a result of their combat need to be encouraged to seek help, and not be told they are weak or deficient in character in any way, shape or form.
Zach Iscol, a Marine veteran and executive director of the nonprofit Headstrong Project, which helps provide free care for veterans suffering from PTSD, said Trump’s comments weren’t “just wrong, they’re dangerous.”
The biggest barrier we have to people getting help is the stigma of getting help. It just shows a complete misunderstanding of what post-traumatic stress disorder is.
My recommendation to Donald Trump is to shut up about PTSD and Delayed Stress. You obviously don’t have a clue what they are and what they do to people who suffer from them. We are not “weak”. We are humans who have been put in situations that normal people aren’t.
We volunteered for these duties. We did them without concern about ourselves but about those we served with or were trying to save. I know that I for one don’t want sympathy. I don’t want anything except the understanding. I certainly don’t want any insinuations about my strength or stamina or character.
I am close to the same age as Trump and I will put my strength, stamina and character against his any day. The difference is I served my country and he served himself and no one else. We have more strength, stamina and character than Trump will ever have.
It is moments like this one that makes me believe more and more that Donald Trump is unfit to be our Commander in Chief. If a candidate isn’t willing to learn about issues he wants to talk about, he is untrustworthy to be willing to learn what he needs to be a true leader of our military and our country.
It is moments like this that ensures he will never get my vote. I ask that he doesn’t get yours either. Words matter. Words left silent matter even more.