Is PTSD Purple Heart Worthy?

| Tue Jan. 27, 2009 5:35 PM EST

Not according to the Pentagon and The Nation is fired up about it:

"Every badge hunter and his brother will have this distinguished award in their sights," Army Captain Matthew Nichols wrote in a letter to the editor of Stars and Stripes last spring, when the specter of thousands of emotionally wounded teenaged and twentysomething veterans became an issue too pressing to ignore. Joe Palagyi, national adjutant of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, equated psychological trauma to "almost getting wounded." In other words, if a soldier's postwar life is emotionally shattered directly because of his service to his or her country, then it's their own damn unsoldierly fault; any heroism or quick thinking that led to one's almost—as opposed to actually—getting wounded is not triumphant but rather a gateway to mockery.

Is it just me, or is this one a toughie?

We've all seen enough movies to know that lots of Purple Heart winners took a bullet in the bum under less than glorious, non-dangerous circumstances. Still, there was always the notion that one had to have shed some blood somewhere in theatre to win such an honor, without looking closely at how that blood got spilled. I'm not as disgusted as The Nation. Maybe I will be, but I'm not there yet.

This is one of those issues you never see coming and kinda wish had never come up. I wonder how the question arose; I can't see lots of GIs demanding the PH for their PTSD.

I'm stumped. And I can't stop thinking about it. According to the National Purple Heart Hall of Fame one earns this commendation:

Advertise on MotherJones.com

in the name of the President of the United States to any member of the Armed Forces of the United States who, while serving under competent authority in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Services after April 5, 1917 has been wounded, killed, died after being wounded, or has been held as a prisoner of war. As it was when General Washington created it, the Purple Heart is specifically a combat decoration.

Emphasis mine.

Presumably, given this wording, advocates are seeking to change the criteria such that 'wounds' need not be physical. I will probably come to regret this, but I think I'm with the brass on this one: Purple Hearts for combat. Massive funding for the care of those GIs with PTSD but not that medal. Besides, anyone who serves in a combat zone is automatically eligible for other very prestigious medals.

I also disagree with The Nation that the Army's attitude is based solely on despising the supposed weaklings who couldn't take it. Certainly, there's a strong stigma against admitting to mental health issues (few GIs would risk talking to military medical types about depression, alcoholism, etc., for legitimate fear of career backlash), but I simply don't accept that that's all there is to the opposition to change. Sympathy for the affliction is no doubt on the rise; one can oppose this change without thinking that all these GIs are either faking or wusses. I do.

So far.

Get Mother Jones by Email - Free. Like what you're reading? Get the best of MoJo three times a week.