Last spring, after touring a mental health center at Fort Bliss, Texas, Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted that awarding Purple Hearts to service members dealing with illnesses like PTSD was "clearly something that needs to be looked at." Recently, however, the Pentagon decided against it. The reasons given were that mental health conditions aren't intentionally caused by enemy action, like a bomb or bullet, and because they remained difficult to diagnose and quantify. Eileen Lainez, a Pentagon spokeswoman said, "Current medical knowledge and technologies do not establish PTSD as objectively and routinely as would be required for this award at this time."
In our society, the Purple Heart is a symbol that recognizes veterans who have suffered injury in combat situations. According to The New York Times, "The Purple Heart in its modern form was established by Gen. Douglas MacArthur in 1932. Some 1.7 million service members have received the medal, and, as of last August, 2,743 service members who served in Afghanistan and 33,923 who fought in Iraq had received the award. The medal entitles veterans to enhanced benefits, including exemptions from co-payments for veterans' hospital and outpatient care and gives them higher priority in scheduling appointments."
This decision by the Pentagon is very shortsighted and must be reconsidered. For too long, people with mental illness have been discriminated against by a broad cross-section of our society. The number of veterans who have suffered the psychological injuries of war is vast and must be recognized. The spectrum of these injuries includes traumatic brain injuries, PTSD, depression, and other serious psychological conditions. While there might not have been blood spilled, the scars are no less permanent or long-lasting. And they are no less real.
Veterans deserve our recognition and admiration for their commitment and service. They've put their own personal well-being at risk for a cause greater than themselves. The risks to their health include both physical and psychological trauma. We must be willing to recognize and honor the whole person.
Where do you weigh in on this topic?