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Trump on PTSD: Dangerous Ground

Other people don't have to suffer like I did. Harm that is being done here if his comments prevent someone from standing up and getting the care that they desperately need.

Don Zuzula

Personally, I don't care if you support Trump or Clinton. I support neither, I have plenty of reasons and I've been avoiding political discussion because it's quite frankly fucking exhausting. However, Donald Trump’s October 3, 2016 comment on veterans at the Herndon, VA Retired American Warriors event is dangerous ground.

Whether Trump meant—that people like myself with PTSD are weak or he simply mis-spoke—is completely inconsequential to the damage in the statement that he made in and of its self. One of the largest barriers that servicemen and women with PTSD face is the stigma behind mental health care, and the perception that they will be seen as a "sick" or "disturbed" person or that they'll be considered "weak" by their brothers in arms. Weak for having a struggle with thoughts, feelings, disturbing dreams, intrusive thoughts and memories or flashbacks, and admitting that it's effecting their lives.

I suffered with it for 8 years in silence, completely alone and didn't say a word to anyone except once in a while when I would get so blackout drunk that I'd start running my mouth about shit that I just needed to say because it was eating me alive. I had to have a veteran friend come to me and tell me that he got help and that I could too, and he walked me through it, and helped me feel like I wasn't alone and reinforced that I wasn't "weak”. It took strength, and it's taken a lot more out of me to face it head on, to do what I need to and to stand up and talk about it like this, so that other people don't have to suffer like I did, than it ever did to just hold it in and suffer in silence.

When you give these people—these veterans—the impression that you think they're not as strong as others for having these issues, you're only solidifying their perception that they need to stay silent, that they need to suffer. This is how we kill veterans, this is the stuff that causes suicides, this is the stuff that makes people desperate because they know they need something but they're afraid to ask for it.

I think that the only way to undo the damage from something like this, or even get better outreach from it is to in this case do the impossible which is to essentially as a nation collectively rebuke the idea that there is weakness involved in PTSD. Quite unfortunately though, many veterans without PTSD believe exactly the opposite, that it is an imaginary disorder, that is is driven by fear, that it can be controlled, or that most people with it are just trying to game the VA's system for a compensation check, which is the case for some unfortunately, creating anecdotal evidence and furthering the problem.

The same issues exist for veteran suicide with the perception of weakness and the stigma behind getting help with depression and anxiety. The veteran community is far from united in this way, and the civilian community can be very alienating to a veteran because military experience creates a very different culture which are generally driven by a different system of values than what civilians hold. We were a essentially a member of a tribe in the military. Sebastian Junger did an excellent TedX talk about this subject, where he proposed that it was a lack of shared tribalism that was creating this problem. It’s a culture of warriors, when we leave that doesn't go away for us.

I know what he was addressing, I watched the video of the portion in question, the word weak wasn't used directly, but it was implied that in order to be able to handle issues of war he said to the people in the room "you're strong, you can handle it, others can't handle it..." So no, the word weak isn't being used, but it doesn't matter, people are taking it that way. That means that many potential veterans who need care are going to take it that way and that by addressing the issue without real understanding of the problem he did damage by nailing down the exact same stigmatization that has been placed on it in that has been keeping people from getting help in the first place.

The worst part about Trump’s assumption is that PTSD is not a "mental health disorder" it's a physical reaction to a trauma or repeated traumas and is common among warriors because of the severity of repeated traumas. It is a condition where the body's "fight or flight" response gets stuck in the "on" position keeping those people in a constant state where that part of their brain is in control, and leaves the other part which is the calmer more pleasant part of the brain out of their life. It has nothing to do with strength, you have to be predisposed to getting PTSD, and you have to be put into the right situations to get it.

So Trump was factually wrong here due to once again making assumptions rather than seeking the knowledge it would take to be an authority on this subject. One of the many reasons why I won't give him my support is that he doesn't ever seem to want to learn facts about anything, he makes information up on the fly and for some reason, people believe him despite lies and bullshit that comes out of him just to seem credible. This is one of those cases where I'm deeply knowledgeable, from personal experience, on the subject and I'm infuriated at the situation because of the harm that is being done here.

I'm not offended if Donald Trump called me weak. I've been called worse things by people I actually respect, and I've heard him say worse shit. I'm done being shocked by shit that comes out of Donald Trump's mouth. This is just par for the course no matter how he meant it, and no matter how his followers defend this action.

I will, however, be upset if his comments prevent someone from standing up and getting the care that they desperately need because they feel it implies weakness.

Don Zuzula is a combat veteran, graphic artist and songwriter/guitarist for Michigan's own Folk Punk group The Tosspints.