Wounded, then ignored

Early this month the U.S. Department of Defense made a momentous decision: soldiers suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder are not entitled to receive Purple Hearts.

That the DOD even reviewed the proposal shows how far acceptance of PTSD as a psychologically real – and devastating – condition has come.

Saybrook Psychology faculty member Stanley Krippner, author of “Haunted by Combat,” says that however good the idea, it was unrealistic to expect the military to extend the Purple Heart to PTSD victims.

“There is no question that PTSD victims can be as badly affected by enemy actions as personnel wounded by weapons or bombs. But that is not the issue,” Krippner said. To decide that a psychological wound meets a criterion set up for physical wounds is to think metaphorically. “But the military is not given to using metaphors when it comes to following regulations.”

Daniel Pitchford, a Saybrook student who works with veterans suffering from traumatic stress, still disagrees strongly with the decision.

“I find it interesting that the military would prescribe drugs for a ‘disorder’ it does not consider to be physically wounding, despite it being neurophysiological in nature,” Pitchford said. “The military cannot have it both ways.”

Joseph Bobrow, a Saybrook graduate and Zen Roshi who heads the “Coming Home Project” for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, said he’s conflicted about the issue.

“I’m not sure about the Purple Heart decision itself,” Bobrow said. “I do think there needs to be some way to recognize invisible injuries, which can be just as traumatic and disabling as visible injuries.”

On that, everyone agrees. “They need to provide a means for destigmatizing (mental trauma),” Pitchford said. “For example, by providing “awards” in response to the horrors of the war and for enduring [neuro]psychological scars. By expanding the definition of ‘wound’ to include invisible wounds of war, we can better promote real healing among those men and women who are already stigmatized for having natural reactions – which is both incredibly harmful and absurd.”


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