No Purple Heart for PTSD

The Defense Department has ruled that service members who wish to be awarded the Purple Heart will continue to have to get themselves shot, just like in the old days.

The Pentagon has decided that it will not award the Purple Heart, the hallowed medal given to those wounded or killed by enemy action, to war veterans who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder because it is not a physical wound.

The decision, made public on Tuesday, for now ends the hope of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who have the condition and believed that the Purple Hearts could honor their sacrifice and help remove some of the stigma associated with the condition.

While I take PTSD more seriously than Stacy McCain, who asks “What next? Medals for dysentary?” I share his credulity that this was even under serious consideration.  To award the Purple Heart for psychological scars would be a slap in the face to the long line of combat wounded who have earned the medal the hard way, instantly cheapening it.

It’s good that we’ve moved past the days when General Patton openly scorned soldiers with what we used to term “battle fatigue” or “shell shock.”  It’s a real medical condition and not a badge of shame or cowardice.  But it’s not something for which a medal should be awarded, either.

via memeorandum

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Raoul says:

    “slap in the face”-yikes.

  2. Michael says:

    From a purely technical standpoint, it’s much easier to verify that a soldier has a gunshot wound than a psychological condition.

  3. Anderson says:

    Clearly, a compromise is in order.

    For PTSD, a different medal should be awarded.

    The “Purple Brain”?

    (Or, in homage to Patton, the Yellow Streak?)

  4. Susan says:

    I believe you meant to say incredulity.

  5. Noah says:

    It’s sad to see a Neanderthal understanding of mental illness still so rampant in our society. Because blood is more visible than trauma we are that much more ready to reward and honor it? Ridiculous, and such an attitude is reflective of the general willful ignorance we maintain towards the afflictions of the mind. Everybody should read “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” by Dave Grossman – it’ll blow all your “man up” pre-conceptions about combat-related PTSD out of the water.

  6. bakum says:

    What an ignorant view of psychological trauma. You should educate yourself a little bit before you spout off.

    Psychological trauma can be as horrific, painful and debilitating as any physical trauma. In some ways physical trauma is easier to deal with because geniuses such as yourself (basically society at large) consider it more “legitimate,” and so there’s less shame involved for the sufferer. But ask anyone who has nightmares every night, panic attacks, phobias, etc –all of which are incredibly resistant to treatment– if they’d rather just loose a limb and I bet you’d be knocked over by the answer.

  7. DRK says:

    “But it’s not something for which a medal should be awarded, either”.

    Why not?

  8. Xanthippas says:

    To award the Purple Heart for psychological scars would be a slap in the face to the long line of combat wounded who have earned the medal the hard way, instantly cheapening it.

    That doesn’t make any sense. Giving a medal to a guy who suffers a debilitating psychological condition after combat, cheapens a medal we give to men who receive injuries that are not at all debilitating, life-threatening or even all that serious? Really?

  9. I respectfully disagree with the Pentagon’s findings and decision in this matter. Evidently, Ms Lainez is not a student of “Psychological Warfare!” Instilling fear, terror and stress through barbaric and horrific means is as old as war itself… and it is intentional! During the Revolutionary War, British Lieutenant Colonel Banastre Tarleton, commander of the notorious Tarleton’s Legion was merciless when it came to utilizing horrific tactics to instill psychological terror purposely in our forces by every ruthless means he could imagine. All to great success, I might add. In recent history, only our nation has consistently restrained it’s military by abiding by the Geneva Accords! And we restrain ourselves in applying psychological means to entice our enemies to surrender by promising good treatment and fair dealings. Any violation is dealt with in accordance to law! During WW II our enemies did not abide by “civilized” standards. The same can be said about our enemies in the Korean War and the war in Vietnam. The enemies of our nation and our people in this modern age are even more brutal… in every aspect of warfare, not to mention the killing and maiming of the helpless and innocent! Terror has no limitations! Our enemies are smart, cunning and inventive! And their intention in every action is to kill, maim and cripple as many of us as possible, on and off the battlefield by every means imaginable… including the psychological disabling and the “proxy killing” (suicide) of our warriors and combat veterans! I assure you that when a combat veteran suffering from Post Combat Stress Disorder violently commits suicide by “eating his gun” or “kissing a train”… it is not a “secondary effect” to him or his loved ones! I rest my case! Those in power, please, please, reconsider this unjust, poorly thought out decision! Thank you!

    Psychological Warfare inflicts Psychological Wounds!
    Inflicting misery and death is never unintentional or secondary!

    Nothing is more intense than fighting for your life for the sake of your country, its people and your beliefs. Every aspect and moment of it is ingrained in your being and the fervor of it touches your very soul. In no other situation is the difference between life and death, for self and others, determined by the immediate actions of those involved in the struggle for survival in the heat of battle. The chaos, immensity and passion of it all overwhelm the senses and time stalls in the reality and memory of it. One’s actions and deeds are entwined with the sacrifices and sufferings of everyone at hand. All… all is endured for the sake of something bigger than self. All is for your God, family, freedom, country and the love of your fellow man. This is the sanctified nature of PCSD and that is what separates it from all other anxiety disorders. This why I feel a Purple Heart Medal is well deserved by those who suffer from Post Combat Stress Disorder.
    Please visit my website, Griffin’s Lair, for more information on the concept of “PCSD.”.