The Pentagon on Thursday sought to assure troops that it takes post-traumatic stress seriously despite the recent decision not to award the Purple Heart to those with the disorder.
An advisory committee concluded that troops coming home from the wars with combat stress cases collectively known as post-traumatic stress disorder will not qualify for the prestigious medal awarded to service members wounded in action.
"I don't think anybody should assume that that decision is in any way reflective on how seriously we take the problem of PTSD," Defense Department press secretary Geoff Morrell said. He noted that the military is budgeting money for research, development, treatment and preventive measures.
"Just because an awards committee believes this particular injury does not qualify for this award does not in any way reflect that we don't take this problem seriously and aren't committed to doing everything we possibly can toward preventing it, toward treating it, toward taking care of those who are suffering with it," he told a Pentagon press conference.
Troops with post-traumatic stress can have flashbacks of their time at war, nightmares, sleeplessness and other debilitating symptoms
Nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan — 300,000 in all — are estimated to have symptoms of PTSD or major depression, according to a study last year by the RAND Corp. research organization.
Though full-blown symptoms may not surface immediately, doctors say symptoms can be lessened and controlled with early treatment and that most people can return to their duties.
The Pentagon decided in November that troops with the disorder cannot be awarded the Purple Heart, but the decision was not known until it appeared Monday on the Web site of Stars and Stripes newspaper.
"The Purple Heart recognizes those individuals wounded to a degree that requires treatment by a medical officer, in action with the enemy or as the result of enemy action where the intended effect of a specific enemy action is to kill or injure the service member," Defense Department Eileen Lainez said of the decision. "PTSD is an anxiety disorder caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event." It is not "a wound intentionally caused by the enemy from an outside force or agent," but is a secondary effect caused by witnessing or experiencing a traumatic event.
Veterans diagnosed with PTSD "still warrant appropriate medical care and disability compensation, Lainez said, and the department "is working hard to encourage service members and their families to seek care for PTSD by reducing the stigma and urging them to seek professional care."