When asked in a room full of military veterans Monday whether he'd support a more holistic approach to mental health care for vets, Donald Trump said "yes." And then he made a comment that stirred outrage on social media.
"When you talk about the mental health problems, when people come back from war and combat, 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," Trump told a gathering of the Retired American Warriors PAC in Herndon, Virginia.
"But," he continued, "a lot of people can’t handle it."
Trump also talked about the need to improve mental health care for vets, but his "can't handle it" remark sparked a Twitter eruption, with critics accusing him of suggesting that vets who have trouble managing their health care issues are weak.
I'm a vet in major chronic pain for 7 yrs now, not #PTSD, but I've considered suicide & I feel I am as strong as Trump's fans, or stronger— Mary Lee (@MaryLeeArmyVet) October 4, 2016
Trump's campaign pushed back against the idea that he's insensitive to the plight of those dealing with mental health problems.
"Mr. Trump was highlighting the challenges veterans face when returning home after serving their country," said retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, one of the candidate's top advisers.
"The media continues to operate as the propaganda arm of Hillary Clinton as they took Mr. Trump’s words out of context in order to deceive voters and veterans — an appalling act that shows they are willing to go to any length to carry water for their candidate of choice," Flynn said in a statement.
Army veteran Kathryn Arnett has spent 20 years as a military mental health care provider. Now the director of the new Cohen Military Family Clinic at USC, she thinks the controversy over Trump's comments is an unhelpful distraction.
"We get caught up in who said what and why did this person say this and what does this mean, when really the real issue here is that there are quite a lot of veterans who need our help," Arnett said. "That’s what we should be getting in a twist about."
Experts say many active duty military and veterans are reluctant to seek treatment for mental health problems because of the stigma surrounding asking for help.
"It takes a great degree of strength and courage to be able to say to someone, 'I need help. I’m in over my head,'" said Arnett.
Twenty vets commit suicide in the U.S. every day.