January 6th, 2009
04:54 PM ET

Troops suffering from PTSD won't get Purple Heart

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2009/POLITICS/01/06/ptsd.purple.heart/art.purple.heart.gi.jpg caption="Soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder will not receive the Purple Heart, the Pentagon says."]

Mike Mount
CNN Senior Pentagon Producer

The Purple Heart medal, awarded to service members who have been physically wounded in combat, will not be given to troops diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a Pentagon statement said.

The decision, which was made in early November but just made public this week, came about after months of deliberations sparked by a question on the topic posed to Defense Secretary Robert Gates during a Pentagon briefing in May.

"(It's) clearly something that needs to be looked at," Gates said, responding to the query. His answer prompted a review by the Defense Department's Awards Advisory Group, made up of "award experts" in the Pentagon.

After the review, Undersecretary of Defense for Personnel and Readiness David Chu examined the advisory group's findings and determined service members suffering from PTSD would not be eligible for the award, according to Pentagon spokeswoman Eileen Lainez. Gates agreed with the decision, Lainez added.

Thousands of service members are at risk of suffering from or have already been diagnosed with PTSD after serving in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Pentagon statistics. The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates up to 11 percent of Iraq veterans and 20 percent of Afghanistan veterans have PTSD.

"The Purple Heart recognizes those individuals wounded to a degree that requires treatment by a medical officer, in action with the enemy or as the result of enemy action where the intended effect of a specific enemy action is to kill or injure the service member," according to a statement released by the Pentagon.

"PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event; it is not a wound intentionally caused by the enemy from an 'outside force or agent,' but is a secondary effect caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event," the statement continued.

The Defense Department statement noted that historically, Purple Heart designations are awarded for bodily injuries from "an outside force or agent," which is considered an objective standard. It also cited other Purple Heart award criteria and 76 years of precedent as other factors in deciding when to bestow the honor. The medal has never been awarded for psychological conditions, it said.

Currently, the department explained, PTSD is not diagnosed "as objectively or routinely" as would be required for the award. The Pentagon did leave the door open to possibly awarding the medal to those suffering from combat-related PTSD in the future, saying, "advancements in medical science may support future re-evaluation."

Filed under: Pentagon • PTSD
soundoff (6 Responses)
  1. PA

    Every service member deployed for Active Duty should be given a Heart for bravery. Especially those who served and are now serving in the debacle of the unwarranted war initiated by Bush!

    I know Veterans who are suffering from PTSD and whose lives have never been the same since they returned and possibly never will be. And, aren't all who have and are now making the selfless sacrifice for our security and freedom Heroes of the same cloth?

    I know the Purple Heart has been a distinguished service award since before I was born but those suffering from PTSD should not be singled out or their service put under a dimmer light. They too have paid the price and are suffering the consequences and the majority are suffering in silence and alone without much assistance. It is not just or Patriotic in my opinion. I'm sure many Veterans of WWI and WWII also suffered PTSD in silence but during those eras it didn't have a Name.

    January 6, 2009 at 6:59 pm |
  2. Tammy, Berwick. LA

    So what, losing a limb is a greater sacrifice than losing one's mental health and ability to function in daily life as the soldier did before going off to war? Sounds to me like they just don't want to acknowledge the lifetime of damage these conflicts have caused or honor those who suffered just as much (if not more) because of them. This is one more instance of the ingratitude of this nation for what our men and women in uniform and their families sacrifice every day they serve this nation asking nothing in return. You all should be so ashamed of yourselves.

    January 6, 2009 at 6:57 pm |
  3. EJ (USA)

    Well, this makes sense.

    January 6, 2009 at 6:19 pm |
  4. Jim

    I have to say, I was originally on the fence with this one. I served my country, saw the injuries and deaths of my friends, compatriots. Saw things that screwed with my head. But I was able to move on, deal with it, and get the job done. I don't think about that stuff anymore, so I'm one of the lucky ones. Do I deserve a PH for that? No. But for those that still suffer, I think they do. For those that were wounded, and received a PH, they were injured, to varying degrees. Some were patched up and sent back to the field, and others were discharged, maybe to suffer for the rest of their lives. The brain is an organ, but one that can be injured both physically and psychologically. Who is to say that the psychological wound is any less painful, or detrimental to their overall wellbeing, than someone who's lost a spleen, or a limb? These people were injured in the line of duty, regardless of the duration of the injury. I think the DoD is doing them a disservice to discount that fact. That's just this grunt's opinion.

    January 6, 2009 at 6:12 pm |
  5. Cindy

    I don't see a problem with this. I mean while PTSD is serious it isn't the soldiers actually being harmed physically and needing surgery or what not to recover. Getting shot or wounded another way is something that should garner you a Purple Heart but having anxiety attacks shouldn't.


    January 6, 2009 at 5:35 pm |
  6. Gloria Ritenour

    Post Traumatic Brain Injury is a devastating injury to not only the soldier but to their families. I think if it is clearly diagnosed these should be considered for Purple Hearts. It is a very complex injury worthy of careful diagnosis and a reward for enduring such a lifelong traumatic injury at war.

    January 6, 2009 at 5:18 pm |