RAO Davao City

United States Military Retiree Activities Office Davao City, Philippines

PTSD AND THE PURPLE HEART 17 May 2008

Posted by Service Officer on May 17th, 2008

With growing recognition of the toll post-traumatic stress disorder has taken on U.S. forces, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said the Defense Department may consider awarding Purple Heart medals to combat veterans afflicted with it. “It’s an interesting idea,” Gates said when asked about the concept during a 2 MAY media availability at Red River Army Depot, Texas. “I think it is clearly something that needs to be looked at.” Gates’ comment followed his visit the previous day to Fort Bliss, Texas, where he toured the post’s Recovery and Resilience Center, which is using a holistic approach to treating troops with PTSD. John E. Fortunato, who conceived of and runs the center, told reporters that awarding the Purple Heart to PTSD sufferers would go a long way toward chipping away at prejudices surrounding the disease,. Because PTSD affects structures in the brain, it’s a physical disorder, “no different from shrapnel,” Fortunato said. “This is an injury.” The Army classifies PTSD as an illness, not an injury, so troops with PTSD don’t qualify for the Purple Heart. That distinction is limited to troops killed or wounded in a conflict. “I would love to see that changed, because these guys have paid at least as high a price, some of them, as anybody with a traumatic brain injury, as anybody with a shrapnel wound,” Fortunato said. Not recognizing those with PTSD with a Purple Heart “says that this is the wound that isn’t worthy,” Fortunato said. “And it is.”

Fortunato said he’d also like to see a regulation prohibiting harassment of troops with PTSD, similar to regulations banning racial or sexual harassment. “Until there are sanctions that make a superior pay a price for harassing a soldier with mental health problems, I don’t know that it will change that much.” Soldiers still get laughed at for seeking mental-health services or told that it will ruin their careers, he said. Some in the force view people with PTSD as weak, believing that if those with the disease “just sucked it up and soldiered on, [they would] could get over this,” Fortunato said. “The Army is making a lot of strides toward changing that, but it’s a slow go, because it has to happen at the grassroots level,” he said. “Like any other prejudice, it’s hard to die.” During his visit to Fort Bliss, Gates announced a new policy as of 18 APR in which veterans no longer have to acknowledge on their Standard Form 86 federal security clearance forms mental health care that only involved marital, family, or grief counseling, not related to violence by the applicant, unless the treatment was court-ordered. They also do not have to acknowledge mental heath care if it was related to service in a combat zone. The revised wording has been distributed to the services and will be attached to the cover of the questionnaire. Gates said he hoped the policy would eliminate troops’ concerns that seeking mental health care can cause them to be denied a security clearance and threaten their careers. He also expressed hope it would take the stigma away from seeking treatment. [Source: AFPS Donna Miles article 3 May 08 ++]

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