PTSD and the Purple Heart

March 11th, 2009 | Sources: Economist

Since Blue vs. Gray, America’s military has recognized that war imposes a psychological price on combatants.

highhonorIn Civil War days, people called it soldier’s heart. By World War I, the phenomenon had been dubbed shell shock. For the Second World War, the moniker was battle fatigue, and now it’s post-traumatic stress disorder.

Whatever it’s called, the Pentagon estimates that 11% of veterans of the war in Iraq have it, and the number is nearly twice that among Afghan war vets.

The condition can range from minor readjustment difficulties to homicidal behavior or suicide, and the incidence of cases at the violent end of the spectrum has risen alarmingly in the last 2 years.

The US military recently opened PTSD treatment facilities in Bethesda and Fort Bliss, although there are families of affected individuals who say that’s too little, too late.

Meanwhile many still  believe that weak minds underlie the condition, and it was only months ago that the Army promised enlistees their careers would not be jeopardized if they sought help for this or other anxiety disorders. 

Last year, defense secretary Robert Gates suggested rather shockingly to some that soldiers afflicted with PTSD ought to receive the Purple Heart, which was originally created by George Washington for soldiers wounded in combat.

After much ado the Pentagon demurred, citing a 1932 standard which bestows the honor only on those who have, according to the Economist, suffered wounds “intentionally caused by the enemy from an outside force.”

Alas the Pentagon tends to move slowly on such matters. The World War II memorial remember, was completed in 2004.


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