Before WWII, only serious physical wounds resulting from enemy action qualified soldiers for the Purple Heart award. This excluded a realm of invisible wounds, such as concussion, from heroic recognition.
However, by 2011, medical science had advanced enough to be able to track the long-term effects of concussions on military service members, only to discover that concussion can be more severe than gunshot wounds, and are often linked directly to PTSD: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
This advancement in medical understanding has created a movement to consider soldiers who suffer from PTSD eligible for the Purple Heart award.
PTSD FACES POLITICAL ROADBLOCKS AND DEBATE
Some argue that expanding the qualifications of the Purple Heart will damage the integrity and power of the Award, citing ineligible psychological conditions documented in soldiers since the American Civil War: "irritable heart," "shell shock" and "combat fatigue."
In 2009, despite lobbying by combat veterans, military psychologists, and military medical officials, the U.S. Department of Defense turned down a proposal to award PTSD victims the Purple Heart medal.
HONORING ALL HEROIC SOLDIERS
PTSD cannot be seen by the untrained eye, unlike a shrapnel wound; but it is just as real.
A critical issue in the PTSD-Purple Heart debate hinges on uncertainty. Although advancements have been made in medical technology, diagnosis of PTSD is still uncertain. It is estimated to be another 5-10 years before PTSD can be physically identified in military service members by MRI technology. Until evidence is solidified, a diagnosis of PTSD will continue to remain unrecognized by the Purple Heart.
In response to the dramatic spike of PTSD cases in soldiers returning home from Afghanistan and Iraq, the military has developed a set of guidelines for recognizing PTSD symptoms in order to encourage soldiers to seek help from military counselors.
As medical research probes deeper into the mysterious realm of the human brain, the debate over Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and the Purple Heart award wages on.
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