Dear Mr. Trump,
I find myself in a very strange place as I write this letter. I find myself doing something I never thought I would do — I actually agree with you on something.
On October 3, you spoke with a group of retired veterans while at a forum in Herndon, Virginia. During the Q&A portion of the forum, you were asked about providing better support for veterans living with PTSD and other mental illnesses. And in your response you said the Department of Veterans Affairs is broken and needs to be fixed, and that veterans need more support, and I actually agreed with you. But that’s about where our seeing eye-to-eye ended, because you said some other stuff too, and it’s that other stuff that matters more.
In your response, you made the comment that when soldiers come back from combat there are those who are strong and can handle it, and then there are those who can’t handle it (referring to soldiers with PTSD who take their own life).
Mr. Trump, your comment was not only ignorant and completely uneducated, but it was extremely dangerous as well. Equating strength, or the lack thereof, with someone who has thought about, attempted, or even succeeded in taking their life does nothing but continue to stigmatize the mental health community and perpetuate stereotypes we have been battling forever.
I have a unique perspective on this, as I’m not only a veteran, but I also live with mental illness. I faithfully served my country 15 years ago and have lived with deep depression and anxiety my entire life, and I never saw a moment of combat. Now, imagine what life must be like for the soldiers today who know no other life than a life in combat.
The brave men and women of our military, over almost two decades since 9/11, have been placed in the most dangerous environments and mentally taxing situations, only to be brought home and receive little to no help. According to MentalHealthFirstAid.org, 30% of active duty and reserve military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan (approximately 730,000 men and women) have a mental health condition that requires treatment, and less than 50% of returning veterans in need receive any mental health treatment.
This country has put these men and women in harm’s way time and time again. They are deployed 12 to 18 months at a time, only to come home for a few months and turn around and deploy again. They witness atrocities we could never dream of, and many see they’re friend fall and never return home. They see all this, and continue to serve. That’s real strength.
I would expect someone who is trying to obtain the highest office this country has to offer to know these facts, and maybe choose their words with a little more thought and care. Because not only would you (if you win) be the president of this country, but you would be the commander in chief of these very people you say just might not be strong enough.
But, I have to admit, I’m not surprised, not even a little, by the way you choose to describe this country’s veterans. You have gone out of your way to insult, degrade, and use veterans as political props for your campaign of fear-mongering. Here’s just a small list of things you’ve said over this campaign degrading the military you claim to want to lead:
– You said decorated soldier, POW, and senator, John McCain, was not a war hero. Then when confronted about this statement, you responded, “He’s a war hero because he was captured. I like people that weren’t captured, OK?”
– You attacked and mocked the Khan family (a Gold Star family) because they’re Muslim and because they expressed their displeasure with your racist rhetoric surrounding their faith.
– You flippantly disrespected the meaning behind the Purple Heart when one of your supporters gave you a replica of theirs, saying, “I always wanted to get one of these. This was much easier.”
– You said American soldiers stole money while serving in the Middle East.
– You claim you best know how to run the military, yet have never served a day in your life, and received deferment after deferment for a supposed injured foot.
Mr. Trump, PTSD and other forms of mental illness have nothing to do with a lack of strength. Mental illness preys on your mind, your insecurities, your fears. It lies to you, telling you you’re weak, and that you are failing. It makes you think of submitting or giving up. Does this sound familiar, Mr. Trump? It kind of sounds like the way you describe this country you want to be president of, and the tactics you’ve been using to get there.
So, yes, I do agree with you: Veterans need more help and the VA needs to be fixed, but you are not the person for the job. You have spent your entire campaign insulting anyone and everyone who might disagree with you. You attack women, minorities, individuals of non-Christian faiths, the disabled, and even the military you claim you want to lead.
The brave men and women of this country’s military are some of the strongest people I have ever known, and they can handle anything — they just shouldn’t have to handle you.