ARLINGTON, Va. — Defense officials have rejected the idea that troops suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder should be eligible for the Purple Heart.
"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," said Defense Department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez.
The matter came up in May, when a military psychologist at Fort Bliss, Texas, told reporters he felt that making troops suffering from PTSD eligible for the Purple Heart would help remove the disorder’s stigma.
"These guys have paid at least a high — as high a price, some of them — as anybody with a traumatic brain injury, as anybody with shrapnel wound, and what it does is it says this is the wound that isn’t worthy, and I say it is," John E. Fortunato said in May.
When a reporter asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates about Fortunato’s comments, Gates said the matter was "clearly something that needs to be looked at," prompting a review by the Defense Department’s Awards Advisory Group.
Based on the group’s findings, Dr. David Chu, undersecretary of personnel and readiness, has decided that PTSD does not meet the requirements for the Purple Heart, Lainez said on Monday.
"Historically, the Purple Heart has never been awarded for mental disorders or psychological conditions resulting from witnessing or experiencing traumatic combat events (e.g., combat stress reaction, shell-shock, combat stress fatigue, acute stress disorder, or PTSD)," she said.
The group also found that the requirement that the Purple Heart is awarded for wounds caused by "an outside force or agent" is a fair and objective standard for who should receive the award, but medical science cannot provide such a standard for troops suffering from PTSD, Lainez said.
"Several members could witness the same traumatic event, but only those who suffer from PTSD would receive the Purple Heart," she said.
The issue of whether troops suffering from PTSD should be eligible for the Purple Heart created a controversy after Stars and Stripes first wrote about the issue in May.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart, a veterans group, responded by saying the Purple Heart should only be awarded to troops who shed blood.
"I don’t think people should get the Purple Heart for almost getting wounded," said Joe Palagyi, the group’s national adjutant.
Many Stripes readers also opposed the idea.
"Every badge hunter and his brother will have this distinguished award in their sights," Army Capt. Matthew Nichols wrote in a May letter to the editor.
But Edward Stump, who said he served in Vietnam with the Marines from 1966 to 1967, wrote that the psychological wounds are just as real as physical ones.
"My wounds do not bleed but they have as many scars as a lot of other wounds," Stump wrote. "These wounds will never heal anymore than the scars, from any that are from combat-related fighting, will disappear."
June 1, 2008: Reactions split on awarding medal for PTSD
May 14, 2008: Group says PTSD doesn’t merit Purple Heart
May 4, 2008: Purple Heart urged for veterans with PTSD