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Reactions split on awarding medal for PTSD

Some say Purple Heart would no longer be special

By JEFF SCHOGOL | STARS AND STRIPES Published: June 1, 2008

ARLINGTON, Va. — The question of whether troops with post-traumatic stress disorder should be eligible for the Purple Heart is not an easy one.

Currently, PTSD is one of the injuries that does not merit the Purple Heart, along with trench foot, heatstroke and self-inflicted wounds.

But when a reporter recently asked Defense Secretary Robert Gates about a military psychologist’s suggestion that troops with PTSD be eligible for the award, Gates said: "It’s an interesting idea. I think it’s clearly something that needs to be looked at."

Awards experts and other officials will review the matter at a meeting in June, but they are not expected to make a recommendation on the matter, said Lt. Col. Jonathan Withington.

"The department’s long-standing policy is not to create a new award or modification that would dilute the recognition provided by our existing awards and thereby lessen their prestige," Withington said in an e-mail on Friday.

Stars and Stripes asked readers for their input on whether troops with PTSD should be eligible for the Purple Heart. Over two weeks, Stripes got 68 responses through e-mail, most of which opposed such a move.

Some readers said it would be too easy for troops to be awarded the Purple Heart by faking PTSD symptoms.

"Some people WILL lie just to get the medal and other benefits," said Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Russell, based at Forward Operating Base Warhorse, Iraq. "The good of the few definitely doesn’t outweigh the good of the many or the good of the institution in this case. Give them their own medal but it will be clear what it’s for."

Other readers said awarding the Purple Heart to troops with PTSD would cheapen the award.

"The Purple Heart would no longer be special; it would be like the freaking AAM (Army Achievement Medal)," said Army Spc. Ebony Martin, at Camp Virginia, Kuwait.

Vietnam veteran Dewey E. Du Bose said the Purple Heart is only for troops killed or wounded in combat.

"PTSD is not an injury to the physical body, it could be called a mental injury, but so could my jumping whenever I hear a loud noise. Are we going to call PTSD a mental illness?" said Du Bose, a retired Army sergeant major.

"If that’s the case then we will have to ‘award the [Purple Heart]’ for everyone who has ever been discharged from the military because on mental stress and other mental problems. Why award the medal to one group of mental patients and not the rest of them?"

But fellow Vietnam veteran Edward Stump said that troops suffering from PTSD that came as a result of enemy action should be awarded the Purple Heart.

"Not all wounds are on the outside of the body," Stump said. "Those can be treated and are more likely to heal. The wounds from PTSD are different. They affect the hardest place in the body to treat: your mind."

Stump said he served in Vietnam with the Marines from 1966 to 1967.

"My wounds do not bleed but they have as many scars as a lot of other wounds," he said. "These wounds will never heal anymore than the scars, from any that are from combat-related fighting, will disappear."


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