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Purple Heart Criteria Exclude PTSD, Defense Officials Say

By Army Staff Sgt. Michael J. Carden
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Jan. 6, 2009 – After months of evaluating the criteria, Defense Department officials have decided against the notion of awarding the Purple Heart to military members who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“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 today.

The decision was reached in November when David S.C. Chu, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, conferred with the Pentagon Awards Advisory Group, which researched the matter. The group is composed 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, Lainez said.

Lainez explained that “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.”

By that definition, PTSD sufferers do not qualify for the Purple Heart, she said.

“The Purple Heart recognizes those individuals wounded to a degree that requires treatment by a medical officer in action with the enemy or as the result of enemy action where the intended effect of a specific enemy action is to kill or injure the servicemember,” she continued.

Other factors that resulted in the advisory group’s findings are:

-- Based on the definition of a wound -- “an injury to any part of the body from an outside force or agent” -- other Purple Heart award criteria, and 76 years of precedent, the Purple Heart has been limited to physical, not psychological, wounds.

-- PTSD is specifically listed as not justifying award of the Purple Heart in Title 32 of the Code of Federal Regulations.

-- The requirement that a qualifying Purple Heart wound be caused by “an outside force or agent” provides a fairly objective assessment standard that minimizes disparate treatment between servicemembers. Several members could witness the same traumatic event, for instance, but only those who suffer from PTSD would receive the Purple Heart.

-- Current medical knowledge and technologies do not establish PTSD as objectively and routinely as would be required for this award at this time.

-- Historically, the Purple Heart has never been awarded for mental disorders or psychological conditions resulting from witnessing or experiencing traumatic combat events — for example, combat stress reaction, ‘shell-shock,’ combat stress fatigue, acute stress disorder, or PTSD.

Servicemembers diagnosed with PTSD “still warrant appropriate medical care and disability compensation” even though they’re not eligible for the Purple Heart, Lainez said.

She added that the department “is working hard to encourage servicemembers and their families to seek care for PTSD by reducing the stigma and urging them to seek professional care.”

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