Brad linked me to this NYT article about a ruling the Pentagon took in November but only announced this week. The Pentagon has decided that individuals suffering from Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), a disorder referring to a cluster of symptoms that sometimes arise after an individual experiences a particularly traumatic experience (e.g., rape, war), will not be eligible for the Purple Heart.
The Purple Heart has never been awarded for psychological injuries and PTSD probably had the best chance of becoming the first. Opponents of the movement, however, argued that expanding the honor to victims of psychological disorders would “debase” the honor and added that “shedding blood is the objective.”
The Pentagon advisory group charged with making the decision decided against it because, it said, “the condition had not been intentionally caused by enemy action, like a bomb or bullet, and because it remained difficult to diagnose and quantify.”
Sufferers of PTSD often have difficulty or are unable to hold down jobs. Veterans who hold a Purple Heart receive more privileges and increased benefits than a veteran without a Purple Heart, which is why the government is concerned about malingerers scamming the system.
Sadly, the government’s ruling furthers the stereotype that mental illnesses are some how less legitimate or less debilitating to one’s life than physical illnesses. An attitude still persists that the individual with cancer (perhaps even the smoker with cancer) is a true victim but the individual with depression, anxiety, or PTSD is too weak to overcome his or her illness, or in the case of PTSD, simply too lazy to get a job. This stereotype is dangerous as it leads individuals to think that they should be able to overcome their (potentially) serious mental illness without the help of doctors and medicine and the support of family and friends. Unfortunately, mental illnesses “treated” by oneself in solitude are usually not treated all that while. Suicide is a particular concern among veterans especially since they are more likely to have access to firearms and the presence of a firearm in your home leads to an increased risk of suicide.
PTSD really started to emerge as a relatively common mental illness after soldiers stared returning from Vietnam. Since this time, treatment of PTSD has always struggled against the veteran population it most often targets, a population I would argue are less likely to see medical assistance in the first place (men with ‘can-do’ attitudes).
I also can’t help to wonder if those who were drafted into a war were more likely to suffer PTSD as a result of that war. In that case, one could argue that PTSD was not caused any specific Vietcong offensive but actually by the U.S. government’s draft policy.
I guess I understand wanting to protect the system from scammers but surely there’s a way one can quantify the diagnosis.
Related: Moving New Yorker profile of one family’s tragic encounter with PTSD. Thanks, Maria.