by: Dezarae' Haley
“One more sweep of the perimeter,” a sergeant stated over the radio. The lights of the base entrance illuminated the dark horizon. “Almost done, then we get chow,” I mumbled to myself. A flash of light came out of nowhere that left me momentarily stunned. “What the hell was…” My thoughts were interrupted due to a loud explosion. Flames swallowed the detailed image of the humvee behind me. The explosion was documented on October 6, 2004 at approximately 2145 hours. This was an explosion that will forever change the person I was known to be. Although this life-changing event has awarded me with disability compensation, it is not recognized as a wound resulting from war. One who is diagnosed with a mental scar will not wear the metal or receive the recognition of someone who has a physical wound or even a wound that has healed completely, leaving no trace of existence. Although PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) is still undergoing intensive research, and does not fit under the stipulations to receive a purple heart, I feel these soldiers who live with this disorder deserve the same recognition as someone with a physical injury. The mental scar left behind from a traumatic event never heals, but on the contrary, gets worse with time.
From the United States Army Regulation on awards, it states that “the purple heart is awarded in the name of the president of the United States… is limited to members of the armed forces of the United States who, while serving… with one of the U.S. armed services… has been wounded or killed, or has died after being wounded.” A wound could be argued over what would be classified as such.
“In order to be diagnosed with PTSD, a person must have three different types of symptoms: re-experiencing symptoms, avoidance and numbing systems, and arousal symptoms” (qtd. In Hamblen 1-2). As stated by the American Psychiatric association, “Patients with PTSD suffer from flashbacks, nightmares and other sleep problems, emotional numbness or outbursts, loss of pleasure, an inappropriate startle reflex and problems with memory and concentration” (qtd. in Sapolsky). These symptoms affect just about every aspect of one’s life. According to the United States Army Regulation on awards, “a wound is defined as an injury to any part of the body from an outside force… a physical lesion is not required, however, the wound for which the award is made must have required treatment by medical personnel and records… must have been a matter of official record.” One may think that PTSD would fit this criterion; unfortunately PTSD is on the list that does not justify the award.
“Donna Young was a marine…the marine barracks in Beirut was bombed on October 23… by the following April… [She states the following] I was having a hard time in crowds, because a face would remind me of a face I put in a body bag… she was dealing with survivors guilt… she was hospitalized for nearly three years” (qtd. In Walsh 28)
One suffering from PTSD may have never received a laceration or lose a limb, but the effects of the traumatic event are just as devastating.
According to Hamblen, “In the entire population, an estimated 6.8% of Americans will experience PTSD at some point in their lives. Women (9.7%) are more than two and a half times as likely as men (3.6%) to develop PTSD” (qtd. In Hamblen 2)
After declining several sexual advances my NCOIC (Non Commissioned Officer in Charge) made towards me in Iraq, my last weekend at that particular base in Germany, he used the seeking of information on a soldier who was missing to enter my barracks room. The next thing I know, I am pushing and struggling to get away from him. After a half an hour of struggling, he finally exited my barracks room. I then wanted to run, get as far away as possible. After my enlistment in the United States army, I received a job to work at Wal-mart in the produce section. The environment was great and the people were friendly. Even though the environment in which I worked in exceeded all expectations I had for the job, I would find that when I would get called into the manager’s office, and when the door shut behind me, I started to sweat, my skin would get clammy, It will start to feel as if there was a five-hundred pound man sitting on my chest as I struggled to retrieve a breath. In this situation along with any similar situation, tears immediately start to stream down my face, my mind having no control on my actions; my body takes a personality of its own. Due to my NCOIC sexually assaulting me in the military, I find myself not being able to be enclosed into a room with anyone I feel that outranks me in superiority. No matter the sex, race, or age of the person. As soon as that door closes, my anxiety and panic attacks kick in to high gear. This will forever affect my capability to receive and keep jobs.
“People with PTSD often have problems functioning… have more unemployment, divorce and separation, spouse abuse and chance of being fired than people without PTSD” (qtd. In Hamblen 4). Unlike a physical disability, PTSD affects every aspect of your body and the way you function, not just one aspect of your daily routine.
“Patricia Resick… [says] In general, whether in the military or out, sexual trauma is a more significant risk factor for PTSD than combat or types of trauma that men generally experience” (qtd. In Walsh 29). In my experience, while in Iraq, many women soldiers received harassment and unwanted touching, often. When such incidents get reported, the higher authorities in the chain of command try to ignore the seriousness of the issue. I have had several fellow soldiers that felt that they were the ones being punished even though they were the ones assaulted. “Victoria Muse…says her supervisor began to harass her in late 1983… returning from a movie on the base, a noncommissioned officer… sexually assaulted her… she reported the incident, but had to continue working with her attacker… Muse was grilled about what she was wearing… fueling the shame she already felt” (qtd. In Walsh 30).
“Of the 1.6 million service members who have deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, at least one in six is at risk of developing PTSD” (qtd. In Walsh 31). With PTSD being a fairly new disorder, many people do not want to see it as a serious issue; they would rather see the situation as a man or woman not having a backbone or as he or she receives a label for being an inadequate soldier for not coping with the events at hand. “[According to] John Fortunato, chief of a Fort Bliss, Texas, PTSD treatment center…[he states that] these guys have paid at least as high a price, some of them, as anybody with a traumatic brain injury, as anybody with a shrapnel wound” (qtd. In McMichael). It is a high price to pay to come home from war and not even being able to relate to your own children or spouse.
With each passing day, researchers pursue the challenge to understanding Post-traumatic stress disorder and what causes it or what physical effects it may have on a person’s brain. “Researchers… reported that in afflicted individuals an important region of the brain called the hippocampus is smaller than average” (qtd. In Sapolsky). As many of us have learned in our college psychology course, the hippocampus is used to form long-term memories, retrieve old ones, and manage your day-to-day memory.
I do agree to the fact that a physical wound and a mental wound are completely different, but at times go hand in hand. Researchers and scientists are trying to dissect every possible cause and solution to the disorder. I know that there are many other soldiers out there that have the disorder a lot worse than I do. It is something we wake up to every day; the thoughts of the assault, the explosions, the torture someone held captive received, and or mental abuse one has endured in the military. In some cases they relive the events at night as well as the flashbacks during the day. One may compare living with PTSD to living with hell on earth. We may not fall into the category for a purple heart, but why not a blue heart or green heart, just to acknowledge the loss we have endured and the battle we are still reliving after the danger of the war zone has faded into the past.
Hamblen, Jessica. “What is PTSD?” A handout from the National Center for PTSD
McMichael, William H. “Pentagon: PTSD does not warrant Purple Heart.” Army Times 18 Jan. 2009
Sapolsky, Robert. “Stress and Your Brain.” Discover Magazine 01 March 1999
United States. Army Regulation. Awards. AR 600-8-22. Last updated 11 December 2006 Print
Walsh, Barbi. “When Mommy Comes Marching Home.” Bostonia Fall 2008: 26-31