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No Purple Hearts for PTSD

Filed in
  • PTSD
  • military

By Thomas Heffron  |  Jan 08, 2009
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Does a U.S. soldier who has post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) deserve a Purple Heart? The question has sparked a heated debate in the military community.

Stars and Stripes, the American Forces Press Service and the New York Times report that the Defense Department recently rejected the idea.

A Purple Heart is only awarded when a soldier with one of the U.S. Armed Services is wounded or killed by enemy action. Army Regulation 600-8-22 defines a wound as “an injury to any part of the body from an outside force or agent.” The wound “must have required treatment by a medical officer.”

The regulation lists PTSD as an injury that clearly does not meet these requirements. The Purple Heart has never been awarded for mental or psychological problems.

In a May article in Stars and Stripes a military psychologist argued for a change in the policy. He said that PTSD is in part a physical disorder because it damages the brain.

The idea got the attention of U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. This prompted a review of the policy and stoked the debate.

Common signs of PTSD include feelings of intense fear and horror after a terrifying event. Sometimes this response is delayed. Symptoms may not appear until a few days or even weeks after the event.

Recurring nightmares tend to be most disturbing aspect of PTSD. In these dreams the event may be relived in a way that seems shockingly real.

Most people with PTSD also report having disturbed sleep. It can be very hard to fall asleep or stay asleep. This is known as “adjustment insomnia.”

About half of people with PTSD get better within three months. For others it can be a lifelong problem.

What do you think? Are veterans with PTSD being overlooked?