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VA Boosts Healthcare Priority for Purple Heart Vets

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2000 – Veterans who've earned the Purple Heart medal now receive faster service and save money when they access Department of Veterans Affairs health care.

A public law passed late last year by Congress, the Veterans Millennium Health Care and Benefits Act, extended new benefits to Purple Heart recipients, Kent Simonis, Veteran Affairs' director for health administration services, said in an Aug. 22 interview with the American Forces Information Service.

Simonis said Purple Heart veterans have been placed in a higher- priority category for VA healthcare services and no longer need to make co-payments for inpatient or outpatient VA medical services. The change affects the seven-step priority system that Congress established for VA health care.

"Under the new system, the minimum classification for Purple Heart veterans is now priority group 3," he said. "That is very good news for Purple Heart recipients, in that they are virtually assured of VA health care services now and well into the future."

The Purple Heart: America's First Military Decoration

By Gerry J. Gilmore

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 29, 2000 -- The heritage of the Purple Heart began in 1782 when Gen. George Washington presented heart-shaped patches of purple cloth to three heroic soldiers of his Revolutionary War army.

As it turns out, those were the only awards ever made of the Badge of Military Merit, as it was called. The practice of military awards and decorations then fell into disfavor until the Civil War and the creation of the Medal of Honor.

The Army revived the award on Feb. 22, 1931, but as a heart-shaped, purple-enameled medal featuring Washington's profile. Again awarded for meritorious military service, the new medal had criteria that defined "a wound, which necessitates treatment by a medical officer … received in action with an enemy" as indicative of a meritorious act.

In Executive Order 9277 of Dec. 3, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt extended the use of the Purple Heart to members of the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard retroactively to Dec. 6, 1941. The 1942 order also established a uniform application of standards for the award in the Army and Navy.

President Harry S. Truman, in Executive Order 10409 of Nov. 12, 1952, extended Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard eligibility for the Purple Heart retroactively to April 5, 1917, to cover World War I.

Current award criteria are defined in Army Regulation 600-8-22. The Purple Heart ranks immediately behind the Bronze Star Medal in the order of precedence of personal military awards.

(Editor's Note: This article is based on a June 1999 Army News Service release.)

Before the change, Purple Heart recipients often were placed in priority groups 4 through 7, Simonis said. Those who qualified for priority groups 1 or 2 because of service-connected disabilities will remain in those groups, he added.

Veterans Affairs health care priority categories include:


  • Group 1: veterans assigned a service-connected disability rating of 50 percent or greater.  
  • Group 2: veterans assigned a service-connected disability rating of 30 or 40 percent.
  • Group 3: veterans who are Purple Heart recipients or former prisoners of war; or who have 10 or 20 percent service-connected disability; or who were discharged from active duty because of a disability incurred or aggravated in the line of duty; or who were awarded special eligibility under 38 U.S. Code, Section 1151, "Benefits for individuals disabled by VA treatment or vocational rehabilitation."

  • Group 4: veterans receiving aid in attendance or housebound pension benefits, or who've been determined by VA to be catastrophically disabled.
  • Group 5: veterans with no service-connected disabilities and those with service-connected disabilities rated zero percent, and noncompensated veterans whose income and net worth are below the established dollar threshold (about $27,000).
  • Group 6: World War I and Mexican border war veterans; veterans receiving care in relation to exposure to toxic substances such as Agent Orange and radiation; or compensated zero percent, service connected veterans.
  • Group 7: nonservice-connected veterans and zero percent nonservice-connected vets whose income and net worth are above the established dollar threshold and who agree to make specified co-payments.

Purple Heart recipients will also save money under the new policy. Veterans making over $27,000 per year typically have to make a co-payment, currently $50.80 per each outpatient visit. Purple Heart recipients are no longer make those co-payments, regardless of income, Simonis said.

He said the VA would reimburse Purple Heart veterans for any co- payments they've made for VA healthcare received after Nov. 29, 1999.

However, he added, Purple Heart recipients are still required to pay $2 for each 30-day supply of prescription medication provided to outpatients for conditions not related to military service.

Possession of the Purple Heart medal doesn't by itself qualify veterans for VA disability compensation, Simonis said. Veterans need to be screened by a VA process for that.

Purple Heart recipients claiming VA health benefits must prove they have been awarded the decoration. Veterans Affairs will accept the Defense Department Form 214, discharge papers, military personnel records, orders or award certificates.

The Purple Heart traces its lineage to the U.S. military's oldest decoration, the Badge of Military Merit, first presented by George Washington to three soldiers in 1782. The Purple Heart indicates meritorious military service and is awarded to service members who've been wounded during action against the enemy, to include wounds incurred during captivity. (See sidebars).

For more Veterans Affairs benefits information, see the agency's Web site at www.va.gov.

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Related Articles:
AFPS News Article: Millennium Veterans Act Beefs Up Long-term Care

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