January 12, 2009 -The Department of Defense (DoD) rejected the idea of a Purple Heart Medal for veterans diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Last week, The New York Times editorialized against a medal for PTSD. In contrast, the Canadian newspaper Globe and Mail spoke up in favor of recognizing the enormous psychological impact of war on our veterans. Recognition of PTSD would reduce stigma, the newspaper reasoned.
Several reporters called VCS for comment about the issue, and here is what we told them.
We believe a more important issue is the troubling fact that many soldiers and veterans are waiting months, often years, for mental healthcare and disability benefits.
What veterans need are pre- and post-deployment medical examinations as well as prompt and high-quality treatment without stigma. Congress ordered the military to conduct the deployment examinations in 1997, yet the military still refuses to perform the exams required by the Force Health Protection law, PL 105-85, Sections 761 – 771. Once again, VCS urges the DoD to follow the law.
What the public needs are facts about PTSD and traumatic brain injury (TBI) so discrimination against our veterans is mitigated. For example, the Department of Labor launched a new website that we highly recommend for employers and others interested in PTSD and TBI.
The scope of the mental healthcare crisis from Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans is large and growing. So far, Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals and clinics have already treated 350,000 new war veterans, including 150,000 for mental health conditions. Nearly 330,000 veterans have already filed disability claims against VA. However, of the 84,000 Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans diagnosed by VA with PTSD, only 42,000 receive disability benefits from VA for PTSD. That’s wrong.
We can avoid the tragic mistakes of past generations as soon as the DoD starts providing prompt medical exams for all service members plus high-quality medical care for PTSD and TBI for those who need it. We need to call on the DoD to stop improperly ejecting soldiers diagnosed with PTSD from the military.
We believe that reducing stigma will invite more veterans to seek treatment so they can recover from the significant psychological wounds of war. We also believe that reducing stigma will allow for a smoother readjustment for our veterans into colleges, jobs, and communities without fear of discrimination.
The stakes are high: action now to begin exams and reduce stigma can reduce problems that impact veterans who do not receive treatment: broken families, unemployment, jail, drug and alcohol abuse, homelessness, and suicide.
While a medal for PTSD may be appropriate, as the Canadians are doing, we believe there are more pressing issues such as healthcare, benefits for veterans, and reducing stigma. We are already experiencing a suicide epidemic among younger veterans, so the problem is real and worsening, and real action is needed now.
In 2009, VCS will work with Congress, the new Administration, and other non-profits to fix this problem quickly and competently. Our veterans earned no less than a square deal from a grateful nation.