Family

Trump told a room full of veterans that PTSD only affects those who aren't 'strong.'

UPDATE 10/4/2016: This story has been updated to reflect Trump's full quote and additional context on his larger point.

Trump told a room full of veterans that PTSD only affects those who aren't 'strong.'

On Monday, Donald Trump spoke to the Retired American Warriors PAC in Virginia, where he made some controversial remarks about post-traumatic stress disorder.

During the Q&A in his speech to American war veterans, Trump was asked about the suicide epidemic affecting the U.S. military.

Trump speaking to vets at Drake University in January. Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images.


"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, 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," Trump said.

Social media quickly lit up with anger as reports of Trump's remarks hit Twitter.

His comment, made in a room full of veterans, cannot be ignored.

Trump's words demonstrate a serious misunderstanding of the issues that affect veterans. They also represent a harmful attitude about how to deal with PTSD and depression, one that mental health professionals and activists have been trying to correct for years.

To be fair, Trump's full comments were made in support of providing more health care of veterans — not less. He even proposed that the government should pay for the health care of all veterans, not just at Veterans Affairs locations, but at any hospital.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.

Roughly 5% of all U.S. troops have been diagnosed with PTSD.

The implication that veterans who die by suicide or suffer from mental health problems are simply not "strong" or "can't handle it" is not only inaccurate but reinforces a dangerous, life-threatening attitude toward mental health.

PTSD diagnoses are nearly double that for veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those numbers only account for the veterans who have received treatment. Like many mental health issues, PTSD is stigmatized and often goes unreported or untreated, which means an unknown number of veterans could be suffering silently, afraid to ask for the treatment they need, for fear of being perceived as weak.

For those who do seek help, researchers have found that the suggestion to "toughen up" only increases cases of depression. PTSD is a real mental health disorder that affects millions every year, not just veterans.

Jesus Bocanegra, 24, a PTSD sufferer who had to drop out of college because of his nervousness in large crowds. Photo by Chris Hondros/Getty Images.

Furthermore, Trump's implication that veterans who die from suicide because they're weak is, effectively, pouring a gallon of gasoline on top of the already destructive fire of toxic masculinity.

In simple terms, toxic masculinity is the socially constructed idea that being a "man" means being tough and unemotional, or even violent and sexually aggressive.

"Toughness" has also been a key part of the Trump campaign:

From a very early age, boys are taught that being emotional means being weak. The ripple effects of that lesson are numerous and include a dramatically higher rate of suicide among men than women.

To say that suicidal veterans are not strong or that PTSD only affects those who "can't handle" service doesn't help anyone, and it could hurt a whole lot more.

Photo by John Moore/Getty Images.

Anyone seeking the role of commander in chief, though, should understand and empathize with the very real repercussions of putting your life on the line for your country and be deliberate in the way he or she talks about it.

Trump prides himself on not being politically correct, but there are very real repercussions for talking about PTSD in a politically incorrect way. Despite his good intentions to provide more mental health support to veterans, Trump's disregard for the way mental health professionals and advocates have worked for years to correct the misinformation and stigmatization of PTSD and depression shows a level of flippancy towards an important issue that a commander in chief cannot afford.

True

Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
True

Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

Keep Reading Show less