Should soldiers who suffer with a moral injury and the severe invisible wounds of war be considered for a Purple Heart?

by | Dec 14, 2012  Quoted response from a reader on this website…

“I recently saw Gettysburg on the History Channel. It stated the Maj Rufus Dawes of the 6th Wis suffered greatly from symptoms now associated with the modern diagnosis of PTSD.
This man saw some of the worse combat in American history. South Mountain, The Cornfield @ Antietam, Fredrickburg, 2nd Manassas, 2 days of active combat @ Gettysburg (McPherson’s Ridge & Culps’s Hill) etc.
I also think of Joshua Chamberlains young brother Lawrence. Reduced to alcoholism & depression after the war… undiagnosed PTSD? Maybe.
I recall the story of Audie Murphy, WWII hero. Medal of honor recipient, single handed he repulsed a German attack & killed scores of them. He was later made into a movie star, but couldn’t sleep without a loaded 45. under his pillow for years… eventually he committed suicide. Very sad!
I don’t know if these soldiers should be given medals (But I would’nt object if they were). I just feel they should never be forgotten, & all efforts should be made to assist them in recovery.” 

The debate on this question continues, but may be getting traction while we become more aware of the lifelong and devastating effects of moral injury and the invisible wounds of PTSD.  Some say, “It’s an insult to those who have suffered real injury on the battlefield.”   What do you think?

Before doing research and writing my book, including developing a high level of awareness and compassion for those who are affected by the invisible wounds of war, I thought a mental health condition was shameful.  I kept my own moral injury condition a secret for many years while being convinced it would hurt my chances for personal and professional success in life.  Even my father, who was severely affected with moral injury from extended combat in WWII and the Korean War, made fun of anyone who appeared to suffer from a mental health condition.  The rest of us as a family joined in making fun of folks who were disadvantaged and struggled with invisible wounds.  We even made fun of each other as kids and as adults.  We were never dysfunctional or demonstrated odd behaviors, and struggled with mental health challenges; it was always everybody else!  It is interesting to note; however, that my father surprisingly supported me when my US Navy career ended early because of my own diagnosis of a mental health condition, not referred to as “secondary PTSD” at the time.  Dad supported me because he had empathy!

It is now my strong belief that under certain conditions and criteria, a Purple Heart should be awarded for invisible wounds.  History as far back as the Civil War shows the damage of moral injury to society as a whole for generations unless the pattern is broken and the journey of healing begins.  By recognizing invisible wounds from war, the stigma problem is fixed over time, and those who really need treatment start the journey before it is manifested to a more severe condition, including suicide and emotional damage with “secondary PTSD” in the case of loved ones, especially children.  It is the children I worry about the most…

Steve Sparks
Reconciliation: A Son’s Story

My own beautiful daughters, Deanna & Bianca, as toddlers…

About the author

Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.
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