Military May Consider PTSD Worth a Purple Heart

Advertisement

With an increasing number of troops being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the military might consider awarding one of the nation's top military citations to veterans with psychological wounds and not just physical ones.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered cautious support for such a change on a trip to a military base in Texas this month. "It's an interesting idea," Mr. Gates said in response to a question. "I think it is clearly something that needs to be looked at."

The Pentagon says it isn't formally considering a change in policy at this point, but Mr. Gates's comments sparked a heated debate which says, can psychological traumas, no matter how debilitating, be considered equivalent to dismembering physical wounds?

Supporters of awarding the Purple Heart to veterans with PTSD believe the move would reduce the stigma that surrounds the disorder and spur more soldiers and Marines to seek help without fear of limiting their careers.

Advertisement

"These guys have paid at least as high a price, some of them, as anybody with a traumatic brain injury, as anybody with a shrapnel wound," John Fortunato, who runs a military PTSD treatment facility in Texas, told reporters recently. Absent a policy change, Dr. Fortunato told reporters, troops will mistakenly believe that PTSD is a "wound that isn't worthy."

Military historians believe that the syndrome now known as PTSD -- usually characterized by nightmares, sleeplessness and anxiety and for some, eventually suicide. Vets lose marriages over PTSD, become addicted to drugs and alcohol, suffer from depression, and some eventually take their own lives due to the torment.

Today, PTSD is emerging as one of the signature problems of the long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which lack clear front lines and pit U.S. forces against enemies who operate out of densely packed civilian areas.

A recent California-based research institution Rand Corp. study concluded that 300,000 of the military personnel who have served in Iraq or Afghanistan have symptoms of the disorder, which can sometimes lead to suicide. The report found tragedies closely linked to the development of PTSD: Half of the 1.6 million troops who spent time in the two war zones had friends who were seriously wounded or killed, while about 45% saw dead or wounded civilians.

Many military personnel are reluctant to seek counseling for PTSD because they are afraid that seeking help would harm their careers. A recent survey by the American Psychiatric Association found that 75% of military personnel felt that asking for assistance would reduce their chances for promotion. "There's a real fear that admitting to mental illness will mean being stigmatized," said Carolyn Robinowitz, the organization's president.

The Pentagon's Mr. Gates has worked hard to dispel that stigma, recently pushing through a rule change allowing military personnel to get counseling for PTSD without having it negatively affect their security clearances. The question of whether veterans suffering from PTSD should be eligible for the Purple Heart is a deeply emotional issue for military personnel and their families and would clearly begin to remove the stigma and help thousands and thousands of war vets begin to heal and get the treatment they so deserve.

Advertisement

Comments

Lets see some action and less debating. This comes right after the news that the VA is giving drug cocktails that is killing some Vets at inpatient clinics. And the US Army continues to discharge troops with PTSD for alcohol related incidents. Its a weak and transparent attempt to redirect the negative press.
That's really funny considering most Vets trying to file for PTSD have not been able to since they cannot locate fellow vets to "verify" the horrible things they lived through and saw. Yeah, great idea, let's make Vets relive their horrible memories repeatedly and that's if they can find people to verify they were there. It's not enough to them that these Vets served multiple tours in 'Nam in combat zones though you'd think that would speak for itself. Nope, let's make our Vets jump through MORE hoops. What a load. It would be great to see someone change this for the better and make it easier for Vets to seek help.
Someone needs to first address the loss of records during the Vietnam Era of soldiers who have no recourse because Uncle Sam says there is no record. That's a crock! The burden of proof should be on the Government not the Vet. In the meantime PTSD goes unaddressed for more than 40 years. What of those who were sent on Special OPs. It is all so discouraging.
This is fantastis! Two years ago a group of tried to lobby for implimenting the Purple Heart but instead we were resisted by service organizations and told NO by who ever was in charcge as that now. Now we all try to go forwoard in our rivesm just to find further stigma shown towards ys,,,but we moved on nr=evertheless. Someof us are coing out of the serfvice and out of the veterans hosspitals to find ne things to do in society, I wonder every day wgether or not i snap and under a train, and more concerns,
Yea! That's really nice... I have severe PTSD from being in a mental hospital, unfairly, and I shake so much all the time I'm afraid to go in public, and because I'm afraid, my social life is being destroyed and I am becoming severely sad... It really is a terrible thing, possibly worse than physical injuries because it gets you at the heart and makes you really sad and disabled... it's great they recognize that now, the stigma needs to be destroyed becuase stigma is destrying.. it is a mental war now and the nightmares can become so severe I pace around the house for hours very fast at 2 in the morning, very terrified.. also because of the terrible stigma of misunderstanding people, these people with PTSD are becoming hardened, isolated, sad.. want to win the real war? open up to somene suffering... they need loving/caring so much and they don't get it...