David F. Burrelli Specialist in Military Manpower Policy
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 U.S. 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” (U.S.
Constitution, Article I, §8, Clause 14). Several bills were under consideration
in the 112th Congress that addressed eligibility
for the Purple Heart: the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act (H.R.
4310), companion bills to expand Purple Heart eligibility (H.R. 5144 and S.
2885), and the 2011 Stolen Valor Act (H.R. 1775 and S. 1728). None of the
proposed language pertaining to the Purple Heart was enacted into law.
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: December 31, 2012
Number of Pages: 15 Order Number: R42704 Price: $29.95
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