Friday, January 9, 2009

No Purple Hearts for soldiers with PTSD

The Department of Defense announced this week that the psychic injuries of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder are not enough to warrant a Purple Heart.
“The Defense Department has determined that based on current Purple Heart criteria, PTSD is not a qualifying Purple Heart wound,” department spokeswoman Eileen Lainez said in a dispassionate news release on January 6. “PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event.” It is not, she said, “a wound intentionally caused by the enemy from an outside force or agent.”
Apparently, Department personnel had forgotten how serious PTSD is. The Pentagon's own experts estimate 20% of our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering PTSD. In 2007, 115 military personnel committed suicide and another 93 did so in the first eight months of 2008. For any of us who have dealt personally or professionally with traumatized soldiers, the DOD's statement was downright insulting.
They must have realized the because the Department issued another release on Thursday, this time with a little more empathy. It read, "The Defense Department is deeply committed to providing the best care possible for military members with post-traumatic stress disorder, despite the determination that the disorder does not meet the criteria for the Purple Heart."
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell is further quoted in the release stating, “So, just because an awards committee believes this particular injury does not qualify for this award, does not in any way reflect that we don't take this problem seriously and aren't committed to doing everything we possibly can towards preventing it, towards treating it, towards taking care of those who are suffering with it."
The committee to which Mr. Morrell referred is the Pentagon Awards Advisory Group, an assembly of "awards experts" from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the military departments, the Institute of Heraldry, and the Center for Military History. To the best of my knowledge, not one mental health expert or soldier with PTSD was invited to the conversation. If they had been, the awards committe would have gotten an earful, such as the comments at the Think Progress web site (see MSG Jack Perry's comment #17 there in particular).
What the Department of Defense refuses to acknowledge is that the damage of PTSD may never fully heal and many of our service personnel are coming home forever changed due to the psychic injuries they have suffered.
If you agree with me that the Department of Defense needs its head, and priorities, examined and that PTSD deserves a Purple Heart, follow this link to the DOD website and post your thoughts. You can also write to the following:

Dr. Robert M. Gates
Secretary of Defense

1000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1000

Gordon R. England
Deputy Secretary of Defense
1010 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-1010

David S. C. Chu
Under Secretary of Defense
(Personnel and Readiness)

4000 Defense Pentagon
Washington, DC 20301-4000
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