WASHINGTON — Centuries before Iraq and Afghanistan, George Washington created the Purple Heart to honor troops wounded in combat.
But with an increasing number of troops being diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, the modern military is debating an idea Gen. Washington never considered — awarding one of the nation’s top military citations to veterans with psychological wounds, not just physical ones.
Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered cautious support for such a change on a trip to a military base in Texas this month.
“It’s an interesting idea,” Mr. Gates said in response to a question. “I think it is clearly something that needs to be looked at.”
The Pentagon says it isn’t formally considering a change in policy at this point, but Mr. Gates’s comments sparked a heated debate on military blogs, message boards and email lists. The dispute reflects a broader question roiling the military: Can psychological traumas, no matter how debilitating, be considered equivalent to dismembering physical wounds?