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The Military Order of the Purple Heart

For Immediate Release

Springfield, VA - September 8, 2014

MOPH Supports DoD Decision to Consider PTSD When Reviewing Discharge Upgrade Requests

The Military Order of the Purple Heart strongly supports the decision by Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel that Military Boards for Correction of Military/Naval Records (BCM/NR) must consider petitions by veterans claiming Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) when reviewing discharge upgrade requests.

Although the term PTSD was not prominently used until the Vietnam War, the effects are hardly new.  During WWI, it was called "shell shock," a term coined by the soldiers themselves. It was often diagnosed when a soldier was unable to function, but no obvious cause could be identified.  The symptoms included fatigue, tremor, confusion, nightmares and impaired sight and hearing. Soldiers experiencing these symptoms were often accused of “malingering,” or feigning illness in order to escape duty or return to the battlefield.  Some men suffering from shell shock were even court martialed for military crimes including desertion and cowardice.  In World War II and thereafter, diagnosis of "shell shock" was replaced by that of “Battle Fatigue” or “combat stress reaction,” a similar but not identical response to the trauma of warfare. 

By the time of the war in Vietnam, battle fatigue and shell shock had a new name – Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.  For over 40 years now, PTSD has been a signature problem for many Vietnam veterans and is one of the main conditions treated by the VA healthcare system today.  It’s said to be one of the major causes of divorce for Vietnam veterans and, if some of the suicide statistics are true, PTSD is a major cause of suicide among Vietnam veterans.  A study funded by the Department of Veterans Affairs estimated that more than 283.000 Vietnam veterans — men and women now beyond the age of retirement — still suffer post-traumatic stress disorder from their war experiences in Southeast Asia.  One of the study's key findings is that for some, PTSD is not going away – “it is chronic and prolonged.  And for veterans with PTSD, the war is not over."  These statistics may actually be too low.  Although many Vietnam veterans may have experienced the symptoms of PTSD, they were reluctant to report their illness, especially those who remained on active duty, for fear of being discharged under less than honorable conditions or being labeled as mentally ill.  Others accepted a discharge under general or even dishonorable conditions just to escape the harassment or embarrassing treatment to which they were subjected.  The Yale law clinic estimates that “as many as 80,000 Vietnam veterans were discharged with other-than-honorable status as a result of undiagnosed PTSD, and less than two percent of those who have applied for discharge upgrades have been successful.”

In recognition of the dishonor experienced by many, Hagel pledged last week that the military will carefully review each petition for a change in discharge status based on a PTSD diagnosis. Immediately after the Defense Department announcement, US Senator Richard Blumenthal and others announced the introduction of a bill that requires military discharge review panels to have at least one mental health professional on its board if a mental health diagnosis has been made:  According to Blumenthal, “the step enables the nation to erase the undeserved stigma and disrespect that some veterans have faced.  They were injured twice,” said Blumenthal, “first when they suffered post-traumatic stress, and then when they came back to this country and they were denied benefits, like education benefits, health benefits and other real benefits that could have helped them overcome that post-traumatic stress.” 
MOPH is hopeful that the decision to reconsider the effects of PTSD when reviewing discharge upgrade requests will right what has long been a wrong. 

The organization now known as the "Military Order of the Purple Heart of the U.S.A. Inc.," (MOPH) was formed in 1932 for the protection and mutual interest of all combat wounded veterans and active duty men and women who have received the decoration. Chartered by the Congress, The MOPH is unique among Veteran Service Organizations in that all its members were wounded in combat. For this sacrifice, they were awarded the Purple Heart Medal. With grants from the MOPH Service Foundation, the MOPH and its Ladies Auxiliary promote Patriotism, Fraternalism, and the Preservation of America's military history. Most importantly, through veteran service, they provide comfort and assistance to all Veterans and their families, especially those requiring claims assistance with the VA, those who are homeless, and those requiring employment assistance.  Programs of the MOPH include VA Volunteer Service, JROTC Leadership Award, Scholarships, Americanism, Purple Heart Trail and Cities, Welfare, and numerous community service programs, all with the objective of service to Veterans and their families.

For further information contact:
John E. Bircher III, Public Relations Director
Email: PublicRelations@Purpleheart.org
MOPH on the Web

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