PURPLE HEART DAY
Posted: Tuesday, August 4, 2015 9:00 am
A commemoration occurs on August 7, a celebration of the heart, “Purple Heart” that is.
year, the United States celebrates Purple Heart Day, considered to be
the first official military combat badge of the United States Armed
Forces, the concept originally created by General George Washington on
August 7, 1782. Previously known as the Badge for Military Merit, is the
oldest military award given to U.S. military members.
badge originally consisted of a purple, heart-shaped piece of silk
having a narrow edge of silver stitched with the word ‘Merit” across the
Washington, not only facing the might of England in the War of
Independence, faced difficulties with his own troops including pay and
pension improvement demands and deteriorating morale.
introduced the Badge of Military Merit, the precursor of the Purple
Heart, to honor those who served with valor, a morale booster to his
Washington’s personal writings also said the practice in Europe was to
only honor high-ranking officers who achieved victories, rather than
“But in America,” General Washington said, “The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is open to all.”
Washington wrote, “Ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his
soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of military
merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is
performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings
over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk,
edged with narrow lace or binding.” The
redesigned Purple Heart medal is awarded in the name of the President
of the United States to members of the armed forces, wounded or killed,
while serving, on or after April 5, 1917, with the U.S. military.
Why Are We Denying Purple Hearts to Veterans With PTSD?
I have seen Arthur for psychiatric care for over 20 years. He suffers from severe post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) following his two
tours of duty in Vietnam.
Arthur attended the University of
Massachusetts, and graduated in 1969. Although he was drafted upon
losing his student waiver, he chose instead to enlist as a volunteer.
Soon he was training to deactivate bombs and improvised explosive
devices (IEDs) in the field.
Although he proved to be quite
talented, and ultimately succeeded in saving countless lives, he also
experienced failure. No one can detect and suppress every device in the
Each and every death he witnessed felt like a terrible
personal failure. He still dreams of the horrifying scenes he lived
through in the war.
To this day, Arthur suffers from PTSD and
profound survivor's guilt. While better in many ways, he qualified for
total disability based on his diagnosis, and sees me on a regular basis.
Arthur received two Purple Hearts for physical wounds incurred
in 1970 and 1971, but was denied Purple Hearts for his traumatic brain
injury and PTSD because they were not considered obvious physical wounds
at the time.
I appreciate the profound impact PTSD has had on
his life--his daily flashbacks, impaired sleep, obsessions over what he
could have done to save more lives, extreme vigilance to protect the
ones he loves. Not a day goes by that he doesn't question himself.
defies me that he has not earned Purple Hearts for these long-lasting
effects of PTSD--awards to stand beside the two Bronze Star Medals for
Valor he received.
In 2009, the Pentagon decided
not to award the Purple Heart to veterans. This decision was supported
by the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH). Despite their sympathy
for those who suffer from PTSD, the MOPH contend that the award is for
those who have suffered physical wounds on the battlefield. In their
view, the loss of a limb or any other combat wound is a permanent loss,
whereas PTSD is a treatable disease. And, they argue, some may feign
illness in order to receive medical treatment at the VA.
that the psychological, emotional and moral injuries of war deserve the
same recognition as physical injuries. While psychiatric conditions are
not visible, the cost imparted on the individual and family is
devastating. Furthermore, there are sound scientific findings that PTSD
and other psychiatric consequences of battle have profound physical
effects on brain structure and function.
Let's face it: the brain
is an organ of the body. It may be insulted by traumatic brain injury
such as a concussion, or by derangement of neural circuits (as is the
case in PTSD). And, while some individuals may heal and adjust, for
others, suffering is life-long.
Why should we discriminate
between a soldier who has lost a limb, yet worked through a
rehabilitation program and gone on to build a good life for himself, and
one who has been severely traumatized psychiatrically, yet worked
through a treatment program and gone on to do the same? Both have
sustained the scars of war. Both have served our nation. Both have had
to cope with hardship along with their families, who have watched and
endured their suffering and recovery.
There is a high correlation
of suicidal thoughts, attempts and actions in veterans who suffer from
PTSD and related anxiety disorders, including survivor's guilt (veteran
suicides account for 20% of all suicides in the United States). In fact,
the severity of suicides among veterans has resulted in the U.S. Senate
and House unanimously passing the Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for
American Veterans (SAV) Act and President Obama signing it into effect.
The New York Times reported
that 22 veterans kill themselves every day. While many are older
veterans, a survey conducted by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of
America (IAVA)--which had made the Clay Hunt bill a centerpiece of its
efforts to prevent veteran suicides--discovered that two out of five of
its members knew of a recent combat veteran who had committed suicide.
And, it's estimated that one out of five veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan war suffers from PTSD.
father suffered from undiagnosed PTSD following his duty in World War
II. For many years the entire family was acutely aware of his excessive
startle response, his nightmares, and hypervigilance about situations of
perceived danger to family. Back in those days, we had no idea what
PTSD was, how psychological and emotional trauma affect brain structure
and function. Now we do.
With our increased knowledge of trauma
and its impact on our veterans' brains, minds and emotions, how can we
sit on the sidelines and not at least honor their sacrifice?
can we not provide better services for the emotional consequences of
war? How can we let our soldiers serve us, and then stand back while
they suffer horrible invisible wounds?
We should not allow the stigma of psychiatric disorders to add insult to injury for our veterans.
Arthur and many like him deserve Purple Hearts.
A Note from Arthur
veterans are a national resource, very often untapped and yet shuffled
aside. Many of us are in our 60s and 70s.We are dying by the hundreds.
We are homeless. We fill many prisons.
What could we possibly do
to help our younger brothers and sisters in arms? We can make sure that a
generation of veterans is never left behind again. We see and
experience firsthand the flaws in the current delivery of veterans'
mental health services; I, for one, see veterans at the USO and the Red
Cross as a veteran volunteer.
Confusion, social disconnection and
PTSD still exist--in fact, even more so than expected because this is a
volunteer military. Yet, adequate mental health treatment programs and
support groups, job creation and an overall sense of self-worth are
lacking. PTSD does not go away by itself; we who suffer from it face
daily challenges to survive. The young veterans of today need to be
educated about their benefits. They require mentors and advocates. Most
successful treatment systems begin with outreach and grassroots efforts.
Our Vietnam generation will not leave anyone behind.
RVN combat veteran 1970-1972
Combat Engineer Sapper
100 % service connected disabled