Friday, January 23, 2009

PTSD and the Purple Heart

What kind of recognition and recompense should go to servicemen and women with PTSD? Not the Purple Heart, as recent news has made clear. Is this fair? Well, let's look at it.

The Purple Heart is a medal given to those who suffer physical war wounds as a result of enemy action. This medal is not given to those with PTSD. Never has been, even when PTSD was called "battle fatigue." The criteria for the Purple Heart can be seen here:

From that site: A wound is defined as an injury to any part of the body from an outside force or agent sustained under one or more of the conditions listed above A physical lesion is not required, however, the wound for which the award is made must have required treatment by a medical officer and records of medical treatment for wounds or injuries received in action must have been made a matter of official record.

It goes on to specifically exclude PTSD.

Canada has a similar medal, called the Sacrifice Medal, which, interestingly, specifically includes mental injury, as follows:

Eligible cases include but are not limited to...mental disorders that are, based on a review by a qualified mental health care practitioner, directly attributable to a hostile or perceived hostile action.

I'm not convinced that the Sacrifice Medal would cover all cases of PTSD, but it goes farther in that direction than the Purple Heart does.

So how important is a Purple Heart? I've always thought that the Purple Heart was kind of an odd medal. It is often spoken of with awe, as if the recipient did something outrageously heroic. What they did was get injured. Were they heroic? Absolutely. Anyone who puts their life on the line in service to their country is heroic. Even those who did not get injured. Do injured service men and women deserve something more than those who were not injured? Well, yes. I believe they deserve to be treated and cared for, at our expense. Including those with PTSD.

PTSD is a war wound. A wound of the mind, heart and spirit. An invisible wound, yet deeper than any that sheds blood.

We can argue about who gets what medal 'til the cows come home. Frankly, I think they all deserve a hero's medal. But what's more important is that those who need care, whether for wounds of the body or wounds of the mind, get what they need. If this controversy helps bring PTSD to the forefront and gets those guys and gals some help, it's worth it.


MikeH said...

I saw your comment on my blog and your post to the Writer's Digest site. Thanks, and thanks. I love the title of your book! That's a hell of a nitch market--it never runs out, really. Best of luck with it.

Anonymous said...

Finally, embarrassed that I hadn't come here till I grew despondent over your absence at WD FORUMS (LOL), I ma glad a made it.

You have a heck of a blog here, and your ideas on a sacrifice medal that honors all forms of injury from war are just great.

Hope you are well, and writing, writing, writing.

Paul Elam

Peg Spencer said...

Thanks Mike and Paul, for your visits and comments. I'll be back on WD more soon, I hope! Life gets busy.

dark41 said...

It may seem strange but many vets, don't want a purple heart. Many with those lingering issues don't like the idea of that.

I can say that I appreciate the thought, but it is not something I would ever be willing to accept. In some ways it has a real danger of becoming the thing that defines a person, instead of letting them try and heal. Especially with the psychological trauma, those wounds, that should be a consideration.

There are probably some, perhaps many who would like to see something like that, where those injuries made the award eligible, but I know many who would qualify and they want no part of it.

It is a tough question, and one of course that is not easily answered.

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