Why is the Purple Heart Medal important to combat-wounded veterans and their family members?
The Purple Heart is the most recognized symbol of combat injury and the sacrifice of personal safety. It is not an award for which service members are recommended, rather it is an award which is issued after specific criteria are met. Currently, the U.S. military awards Purple Hearts for Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), however, inconsistently.
Traumatic Brain Injury is a physical injury affecting neurological structures and functions. It is often erroneously mistaken as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Simply put, TBI affects physiology and PTSD affects the psyche. Since TBI often does not have immediate, outward signs of injury, its impact on the health and welfare of soldiers is often overlooked as they appear normal.
In essence, when soldiers lose appendages or have a visible, bleeding wound- it is noticed and recognized as a wartime injury. When people see a veteran in a wheelchair, or using crutches, it is obvious that service member has been injured. Members of the military with TBI may not have any functional aids, and may not show outward signs of injury. That does not mean that their neurological injury is any less dehabilitating or severe.
Traumatic Brain Injury deserves as much recognition as any other physical wartime trauma. Its effects last as long or longer than non-neurological trauma and have the potential to affect every aspect of service members' lives. From cognitive functioning to generalized pain, neurological injury should be recognized with the Purple Heart at every level of service- from line units to division levels.