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Friday, September 14, 2012

The Purple Heart: Background and Issues for Congress

David F. Burrelli
Specialist in Military Manpower Policy

Fenwick Gilroy
Research Associate

The Purple Heart is one of the oldest and most recognized American military medals, awarded to service members who were killed or wounded by enemy action. The conflicts of the last decade have greatly increased the number of Purple Hearts awarded to service members.

Current events have spurred new debate on current eligibility criteria for the Purple Heart. Medical conditions such as Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and shootings on US soil have prompted some to consider changing the eligibility requirements for the Purple Heart, while others believe those changes may cheapen the value of the medal and the sacrifices current recipients have made. In the past, efforts to modify the Purple Heart’s eligibility requirements have been contentious, and veterans groups can be very vocal concerning eligibility changes.

While medal requirements are often left to the military and Executive branch to decide, Congress is showing increased interest and involvement in Purple Heart eligibility, utilizing its Constitutional power “to make rules for the government and regulation of the land and naval forces” (US Constitution, Art. I, sec. 8, clause 14). Three bills are under consideration in Congress that address eligibility for the Purple Heart: the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 4310), companion bills to expand Purple Heart eligibility (H.R. 5114, S. 2885), and the 2011 Stolen Valor Act (H.R. 1775 and S. 1728).

Recent debates have raised several questions about the Purple Heart. In some respects, how an event is defined can determine eligibility: is a service member the victim of a crime or a terrorist attack? Conversely, arguing that killed or wounded service members “should” be eligible for the Purple Heart can redefine an event: Is the service member an advisor to a foreign military or a combatant? Are PTSD and other mental health conditions adequate injuries to warrant the Purple Heart? These are questions that Congress might consider if it chooses to act on this issue.

Date of Report: September 7, 2012
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R42704
Price: $29.95

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