"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."
That was Donald Trump, speaking at an event with veterans in Virginia on Monday, October 3. The Republican presidential nominee was responding to a question about whether he supports faith-based programs that help veterans suffering from PTSD and other mental-health issues.
The comment doesn't sit well with some Arizona veterans who feel he reinforces a stigma that veterans who suffer from PTSD and other mental-health issues are weak.
U.S. Representative Ruben Gallego, who served as a Marine in Iraq, says he and many of his friends have struggled with PTSD. But he adds that many veterans avoid dealing with the condition for fear of being called weak.
"We need to support efforts to both de-stigmatize and reduce barriers to mental-health care for service members and veterans, including addressing PTSD," Gallego, a Democrat who represents Arizona's Seventh Congressional District, tells New Times in a statement. "Instead, Donald Trump's rhetoric adds to that stigma, and his policies would do nothing to help our men and women in uniform receive the proper treatment they need and deserve."
Adds Gallego: "Donald Trump never had the courage to go to war and doesn't know the strength it takes to live with that experience."
David Lucier, a Vietnam veteran and president of the Arizona Veterans & Military Leadership Alliance, says he was offended by Trump's comments and that he thinks Trump should get educated on what PTSD is and how it can be addressed.
"Sitting in front of a crowd talking about people being strong or weak is ludicrous," says Lucier. "It adds nothing to the conversation, and it certainly doesn't address any solutions."
Not all area veterans were offended by Trump's comments.
Sergio Arellano, a combat vet who struggled with PTSD and was homeless at one point because of the condition, says Trump's comments are being taken out of context. He believes the candidate was referring to how some veterans are able to integrate back into life very easily while others struggle for many years.
"There's no real explanation for why that happens," Arellano says. "You can't say that person is weak or strong. A lot of it has to do with the way people are programmed."
He adds that even though Trump didn't serve in the military, "it seems that he has been listening to what veterans on the ground are telling him."
Alexis Jacquez, an army veteran who served in the Iraq War, also believes Trump's comments are being misconstrued.
"I think right now a lot of people don't like him, so they're going to do everything they can to get dirt on him," Jacquez says. "But personally, I met the guy and he's looking to help veterans.
"I do believe that he's one of the few people who's going to go down to the source of the problem at the VA and get rid of the people who aren't helping out veterans," Jacquez adds.
New Times requested comment on Tuesday from U.S. Senator John McCain, a Trump supporter. McCain did not respond.
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