Stigma of TBI replaced with Honor of Purple Heart

Stigma of TBI replaced with Honor of Purple Heart

March 15, 2011 ~ Better late than never!  Could it be that officials may have finally come to their senses?  Senior military leaders are actually considering changing the guidelines for awarding the Purple Heart. There are many troops who have sustained combat-related injuries, some of whom are now disabled veterans, who have been stamped with stigma instead of receiving a medal honoring them for their bravery and sacrifice for their country.

Apparently, officials from all four services will be meeting this week with Dr. Clifford Stanley, undersecretary of defense for personnel and readiness, to discuss the recommended changes which would allow soldiers who have received concussions in combat related situations to be awarded the Purple Heart.

It is my opinion that this should have been the case from the start.  Since the war began, at least 202,000 of our troops have gone into harm’s way and suffered a combat injury that has lead to a diagnosis of Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  Many of these troops have become disabled and have been medically retired from the military only to find that their brain injury does not warrant a Purple Heart.

If we can’t see it, then it must not exist.  A flesh wound, no matter how small, is respected, acknowledged, appreciated, and decorated.  An invisible wound is ignored, misunderstood, and most certainly stigmatized.

For those who live with TBI, the symptoms can be as subtle as memory loss, mood swings, depression, paranoia, loss of balance and impairment of reasoning skills.  Most of us would just find it easier to make a judgment rather than to try and understand an unusual behavior which we might suddenly see in our combat veteran.  We feel uncomfortable and find it easier to assume that our combat veteran simply has a bad attitude or some “issues” and we walk away without the slightest bit of consideration for what it might be like to be the one with the TBI.  It never occurs to us that this individual is suffering from life altering wounds.

Imagine yourself as a highly decorated special operator who is risking your life on a daily basis when you suddenly find yourself a little bit forgetful. You seem to be losing your balance at the most inopportune times, and you are experiencing incapacitating headaches that come out of nowhere and render you helpless.  All of this comes on slowly.  It’s been quite awhile since that IED blew you out of your truck and knocked you for a loop.  You try your best to stay focused and get your job done. You don’t dare tell anyone because you will be taken off your team, but at some point, the symptoms get in the way and you must step away from the job which defines you as a person.  No one understands what is going on, least of all you.

After months of medical testing, and a lot of judgments by those who don’t understand, the doctors finally determine that you have a mild traumatic brain injury and you are sent home, a disabled veteran.  You are finished and you haven’t even reached the age of 25.  Now you can’t work because you have to spend three days a week at the VA with all the appointments deemed necessary to help you treat your brain injury and you never know when the blinding headache will come and dictate the rest of your day.  You start to understand why so many veterans are depressed, unemployed, and homeless.

This picture I have painted is more common than not.  I’m glad that military leadership has finally realized, that in addition to providing better health care for our combat-injured troops suffering with mild traumatic brain injuries, these men and women also deserve to be Purple Heart recipients.

It was stated in the article,  Mild brain injury could soon rate Purple Heart, by Andrew deGrandpre and Richard Sandza of the Marine Corps Times, that “it’s not immediately clear whether any new guidelines would allow for Purple Hearts to be awarded retroactively.”

I can promise Dr. Clifford Stanley, Gen. Peter Chiarelli, Gen. Jim Amos, and the other decision makers, that it would be wise for them to award the Purple Heart to any and all who have been diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury.  It is by medical test results that these brain injuries are diagnosed.  There is no reason to believe anyone is “faking” their symptoms.  If valid documentation can take your job and label you a disabled veteran then that same documentation can validate the recognition of a Purple Heart.

There is an army of family members out here who are ready to stand up and make sure that our disabled veterans get the recognition they deserve for their sacrifices made for this country.  It doesn’t matter which year the injury occurred or on which nation’s soil it was sustained.  Our brave troops stood willing give all for me and for you.  The ultimate sacrifice is not the only sacrifice being made.  The least we can do is give our disabled veterans suffering with traumatic brain injury the recognition they deserve.

This decision must include all veterans diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and the Purple Hearts must be award retroactively.  It’s time to replace the stigma with honor and respect.

For more information on the Purple Heart criteria, please visit

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