Mind Candy

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Why soldiers who suffer mental or emotional damage should receive a purple heart

Posted by mandyf on September 8, 2012

Discussion has been raised yet again as to whether the Purple Heart should be awarded to those whom have suffered mental/emotional damage due to their service in a declared war zone. The sentiment seems to be that the answer is no, although Defense Secretary Robert Gates stated it is something that needs to be looked at. As soon as Gates intimated further review was warranted on this possibility camps set up on each side and the battle began.

The Purple heart was established in 1782 by General George Washington and has historically been awarded to only those suffering a physical injury in combat although there have been rare exceptions. Such conditions such as PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) that are directly linked to combat but show no physical scars are now being considered as possibly qualifying for the Purple Heart. The Army argues PTSD is not an injury but an illness and therefore unqualified for such honor. Countless veterans suffering from this condition would disagree as does Army psychologist John Fortunato. Fortunato contends “PTSD affects soldiers by physically damaging their brains, making the condition no different than conventional wounds.”

“What will they think of next?” the man sitting next to me in the blood draw waiting room at the VA asked me and pointed to an article with the headline “Purple Hearts for emotional injury?” I shrugged a bit as I didn’t feel like getting into a discussion, I just wanted the vampires to tap my vein and get me off to my next appointment so I could salvage part of the morning. “Whaddya think, isn’t this nuts?” Again I shrugged a non-committal response. He continued staring at me with the article open and then he said something that really got under my skin, “At least you’re being a good girl and waiting here quiet for your husband instead of yapping about things you can’t know about. It’s my fault for thinking you could understand.”

I turned to the man and stated I was not waiting on my husband but rather my own appointment and I was hoping it would come up soon as I didn’t want my PTSD group to have to wait for me, especially as my wife was due any minute as this specific meeting was open to spouses. He looked at me a bit confused, and opened his mouth as if he wanted to say something but the words couldn’t find their way out. Finally he said “Broads can’t have PTSD they ain’t allowed in combat!” Fortunately my name was called and I gathered my bag and windbreaker. As I did so I leaned closer to him and said, “Between you and me, I was a guy when I was in combat, and if you ever call me or any lady here a broad I’ll show you what an injury fitting a Purple Heart is.” I then smiled and blew him a kiss to his utter disgust and the amusement of the other vets watching the exchange. One even gave me his best Oprah style “you go girl!” as I disappeared around the corner.

The point of sharing this is that you would think only a few random people would entertain the belief that combat related PTSD is not a real injury. “We vehemently disagree that PTSD is a physical wound that warrants a Purple Heart, says Joseph Palagyi, the national adjutant of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.” Palagyi argues awarding the Purple Heart to those with PTSD degrades it and by proxy those that have “purely” been injured. He further states “I don’t think people should get the Purple Heart for almost getting wounded.”

The National Commander of the MOPH (Military Order of the Purple Heart), Henry J. Cook III, a retired Army Special Forces Colonel said, “Today, as a Band of Brothers,’ we must withstand courageously, any attempt at degrading our most prized Purple Heart Medal.” Ironically The MOPH and the Purple Heart Service Foundation which these enlightened chaps are members state that they “stand in harmony and are dedicated to providing and protecting benefits and entitlements not only for the recipients of the Purple Heart Medal, but to all veterans who have taken the pledge to serve faithfully the United States of America, and to defend the Constitution of the United States.”

One can only draw from their statements however that is true so long as you don’t have PTSD since it is degraded and not a true injury that merits recognition. Their words, not mine. To them no blood equals no injury. No information has been made reasonably available on how these men earned their un-degraded Purple Hearts.

In all fairness these are not the only organizational leaders against the issue. Michael Wysong who serves as the director of national security issues for the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), likens PTSD to Gulf War Syndrome. “Not to diminish the illness or effects of PTSD, but it is the VFW’s belief that awarding the Purple Heart for PTSD is not consistent with the original purpose and would denigrate the medal.” Spokesman for the American Legion (AL) agrees but states that if PTSD or such associated conditions are determined to be an injury they may support the new policy.

So what is the answer, are PTSD and such conditions arising from combat injuries or not? Lieutenant General Eric Schoomaker, Surgeon General of the Army has stated it needs a second opinion. “Whether or not a medal should be awarded is not in my purview,” is the only statement he would make on the topic. He wouldn’t discuss PTSD as to whether or not it is an injury or an illness, or an illness caused by injury. No matter what decision is handed down someone is going to be upset.

The tragedy in all this is not that the Purple Heart may or not be awarded to suffers of PTSD but the utter lack of disrespect and lack of knowledge displayed by people like Palaygi, Cook, and even the old man sitting next to me waiting for blood to be drawn. Saying PTSD is not a pure or real injury as Palaygi would like us to believe is an easy thing to do. Easy that is until you have to deal with it firsthand. I encourage Mr. Palaygi and Cook to visit their nearest VA Hospital and inform veterans that served just as they did that their bouts with PTSD have no merit in regards to the Purple Heart since people shouldn’t be awarded medals for “almost being wounded.”

http://www.time.com/time/health/article/0,85 99,1812757,00.html?xid=feed-cnn-topicshttp://www.pur pleheart.org/Membership/Public/Articles/PTSDPressRel ease05082008.aspx

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