With permission from Lily Casura, I am posting her recent article on Healing Combat Trauma. Do Canadian vets and current forces think Canada should also award Purple Hearts to our wounded? Let’s hear from you. Bonnie.
Those Progressive Danes! Their Purple Heart Just Extended to Include PTSD
© 2010 by Lily Casura / Healing Combat Trauma. All rights reserved. Use with attribution.
Those (ultimately) progressive Danes!
In a momentous development yet to be mentioned in the American or the English language-speaking press, we’ve learned that Denmark has expanded the criteria for their version of our Purple Heart medal — given to those who have been wounded physically in combat operations — to include those who suffer the less-visible wound of post-traumatic stress disorder.
(We wrote about the topic back in 2008, linked here, about whether it would be wise to extend the Purple Heart’s criteria to include PTSD. That proposal generates controversy here, but the Danes have since moved past the controversy to actual recognition.)
From an official Danish government publication, issued date October 10, 2010, and translated here: “In 2010 Her Majesty The Queen approved that…veterans who are wounded physically in international operations can receive the Armed Forces Medal for Wounded in Service.”
Importantly, the publication adds, “The Government recognizes the psychological harm on an equal footing with physical damage, and has therefore taken the initiative to add recognition of physical and mental injuries treated. The Defense medal “Wounded in Service” will from now on be attributed also to those mentally wounded.”
(The medal, pictured here, was established in 2006, and is awarded to “military or civilian personnel killed, seriously wounded or disabled as a result of enemy or terrorist action.”)
Some background on the novel step the Danes have taken:
This past summer, the Jutland Post (Jyllands-Posten), one of Denmark’s largest-selling newspapers, published a video expose of Danish war veterans “so frustrated by society’s lack of empathy for suffering war-related post-traumatic behavioral issues (PTSD) that they have gone beneath the radar and are living in forests, eating berries and catching wildlife to survive,” according to Danish journalist Bent Lorentzen, who wrote about it, here.
Then Gitte Lillelund Bech, the first female Defense Minister, offended many Danes when she suggested that it was up to the veterans to find their own mental help. The head of one Danish veterans’ organization, Lars Christensen, responded angrily (translated) that her remarks were “a great insult to the people who today are suffering after having served Denmark. We urge all veterans to send their medals for us and we will return them to the Minister. When Gitte Lillelund Bech send people to war, it is also her responsibility to treat them properly when they get home.”
(See news story from the Danish press illustrating this controversy, linked here.)
In a follow-up to that controversy, Danish journalist Lorentzen wrote that, “In a statement to Sunday’s (June 27, 2010) Jyllands-Posten newspaper, Gitte Bech now admits that there is a need for the nation to seek out Danish war veterans and offer them crisis help. Denmark’s Military Service-persons Society (Hærens Konstabel og Korporalforening) praises Gitte Bech for becoming wiser. Apparently now, the decorated war veterans threatening in solidarity to return their medals of honor and bravery are holding off and seeing what will occur.” (Lorentzen’s article is linked here.)
We have yet to find a Danish press article on the expansion of the medal criteria to include PTSD, though when we do we will post that. (There is this recent article from The Copenhagen Post, talking about 19 new initiatives the Danes have just put into place to recognize and support those who serve, linked here, and that’s well worth reading.) In the meantime, the official government publication, quoted above, is proof that it happened and that it is now official policy. Whether other nations will follow Denmark’s progressive lead on this controversial question remains to be seen. We hope that they do.
Editor’s note: Gitte Lillelund Bech became Denmark’s first female defense minister in late February, 2010.
Additionally, many thanks to Danish war veteran Dean Lyngaard for his invaluable help researching this article! Lyngaard served in Operation Desert Storm, Bosnia, Croatia, and the Sudan, with the French Foreign Legion, with NATO and with Danish forces.