WASHINGTON (CNN) — Donald Trump suggested Monday that American soldiers and veterans who commit suicide do so because they can’t handle the post-traumatic stress of war.
“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 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. They see horror stories, they see events you couldn’t see in a movie, nobody would believe it,” Trump said Monday, during a panel interview at the Retired American Warriors PAC, in Herndon, Virginia.
Trump’s surrogates said the Republican nominee’s comments were taken out of context, and blamed the media for construing his words.
Trump adviser and retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn accused the media reporting on Trump’s comments of, acting as ” the propaganda arm of Hillary Clinton.”
“Mr. Trump was highlighting the challenges veterans face when returning home after serving their country. He has always respected the service and sacrifice of our military men and women—proposing reforms to Veteran Affairs to adequately address the various issues veterans face when they return home,” Flynn said in a statement.
Trump senior adviser Sarah Huckabee Sanders also said his comments were taken out of context, adding that he was the only candidate in the race placing a strong emphasis on veterans.
“There’s a reason that hundreds of military leaders around the country have endorsed and signed on and said in that room today to express their support for Donald Trump,” she told CNN’s John Berman.
The number of suicides and other grave effects from PTSD in the military has skyrocketed, causing alarm both inside the military and in the public at large.
Jon Soltz, an Iraq War veteran and Chairman of the progressive VoteVets.org, called Trump’s comments “horrible” but “not shocking.”
“We’re talking about a person, in Trump, who believes that POWs aren’t real heroes, and that he’s made sacrifices akin to Gold Star Families who lost their loved ones in war,” Soltz said in a statement. “The constant disrespect Donald Trump shows towards our veterans and servicemembers is sickening, and completely and totally disqualifying.”
During a CNN town hall on military issues last week, President Barack Obama faced tough questions about how the Department of Veteran Affairs was addressing the issue.
“I have instructed the Joint Chiefs, and up and down the chain of command, that they have a responsibility to de-stigmatize mental health issues and issues of PTSD, and help to explain to everybody in all of the units under their command that there’s nothing weak about asking for help,” Obama told a military widow at the event.