The Pentagon ruled in 2009 not to award the decoration to sufferers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) because it “can be difficult to diagnose, and symptoms can arise later in life not linked necessarily to any one action or an enemy,” reports USA Today.
It’s a logical argument. But is it the correct one?
An ongoing debate in the medical and psychology communities focuses on whether combat-related PTSD could be the result of an undetected physical injury such as microscopic brain changes resulting from exposure to a blast wave, other outside influences or the physiological or hormonal overload of stress, or a psychological reaction to trauma exposure.
The Pentagon concluded that more research was needed in the field of brain science before deciding to award the Purple Heart for PTSD.
In the report “Parity for Patriots,” the alliance also said the Defense Department should “forcibly end discrimination associated with invisible wounds of war” by requiring military leaders to focus on reducing stigma associated with mental health treatment and hold them accountable for suicides in their commands.
“Suicides are preventable just as are the heat and cold injuries of service members for which leaders are routinely relieved of command,” the report states.
The Veterans Affairs Department and the general public also must do their part in supporting veterans with behavioral health concerns, the organization said.
The group called on the Veterans Health Administration to expand its treatment options by using already existing community health networks and private practitioners, and it urged the public to “reach out, listen and care.”
“Give veterans rides, watch their children or grant them extra time off work in order to make it possible for them to get treatment,” Fitzpatrick said.
Mental health advocates counter with the notion that recognizing invisible injuries as a wound received in service to America would remove some of the stigma of PTSD — especially among the public:
Arguing in a report published Thursday that PTSD and other mental health issues such as depression can be war-related injuries, the group said the department has an obligation to honor personnel.
“NAMI is drawing a line in the sand with the Department of Defense,” Executive Director Michael Fitzpatrick said. “Troops with invisible wounds are heroes. It’s time to honor them. It will also strike a tremendous blow against the stigma that often discourages individuals from seeking help when they need it.”
I’m not sure that it’s necessarily a good reason to give PTSD sufferers a Purple Heart in order to strike a blow against the stigma attached to the condition. And I imagine other Purple Heart recipients would have their own thoughts on the issue and should be listened to.
But PTSD is, by any definition, an epidemic among our soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It not only affects the life of the soldier, but those around him as well.
Recognizing that the condition is not the fault of the soldier by awarding him a Purple Heart seems the proper thing to do, as long as the condition can be correctly diagnosed and seen as the result of recent service in a war zone.