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Are working dogs eligible for the Purple Heart?

Fans of The Rumor Doctor know from a story earlier this year that military working dogs are not eligible for the Medal of Honor or any other military awards. Yet once again, the media have reported that a dog whose handler was killed is a Purple Heart recipient.

Is it possible The Rumor Doctor screwed up his earlier diagnosis? If so, The Doctor vowed not to emulate Buffalo Bills' wide receiver Stevie Johnson and blame God for dropping the ball.

The dog in question is Lex, a German shepherd whose handler, Marine Cpl. Dustin J. Lee, was killed by a Rocket Propelled Grenade while serving in Fallujah in March 2007. Lex survived the RPG blast but a piece of shrapnel was lodged in his spinal cord, rendering his rear left leg lame.

Lex, who was adopted by Lee's parents, recently underwent stem cell treatment in Washington, D.C., that has allowed him to use that leg again, said veterinarian Dr. Lee Morgan, who treated the dog.

"He's using the leg really well; I think the surgery was 100 percent successful," Morgan said in a phone interview. "He was trotting and he was doing everything. It was a totally different dog than what I'd seen when he first came in."

Media picked up the story about Lex' surgery and more than a few reports said that Lex had been awarded the Purple Heart for his wounds. That seemed to contradict what the Defense Department told The Rumor Doctor earlier this year.

"The use of military decorations is limited to human personnel who distinguish themselves in service to the nation," Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said last month.

Was Lex an exception, or had the rules changed? Neither.

"The Secretary of the Navy has not authorized presentation of [Navy Department] personal awards, to include the Purple Heart, to animals, even military working dogs wounded in combat," Marine Corps spokeswoman Maj. Shawn Haney said in an e-mail.

The award was presented by the Military Order of the Purple Heart, not the Corps, Haney said.

A Military Order of the Purple Heart spokesman scoffed when asked whether his group was awarding the medal to working dogs.

"Are you really serious, or am I on candid camera????" John Bircher III said in an e-mail. "The MOPH does NOT issue Purple Hearts, only the military services can do that. And, of course animals do NOT receive a Purple Heart."

Turns out, Lex received a commemorative Purple Heart at a ceremony recognizing his handler and working dogs, Bircher said.

The February 2008 event was held at the dedication for the Military Working Dog Memorial at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, said Bill Everett, who was the local Military Order of the Purple Heart chapter commander at the time. The medal Lex received was donated by an actual Purple Heart recipient.

THE RUMOR DOCTOR'S DIAGNOSIS: Lex is not officially a Purple Heart recipient, but it's still OK to buy him a beer. Just don't call him a "winner."

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