How To Get a Purple Heart After Discharge

August 08, 2021

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Our office receives many inquiries from veterans who want to know how to get a Purple Heart after discharge. We have compiled the following information to assist you in obtaining a Purple Heart.

Purple Heart Background

The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces who were (i) wounded, killed, or may die (ii) due to wounds received in action against an enemy of the United States, in action against an opposing enemy force from a foreign country that is in conflict with the United States Armed Forces, as the result of any hostile act of force, and (iii) those servicemen who were killed or wounded in action by friendly fire while directly engaged in armed conflict.

The Purple Heart differs from all other military decorations since recipients are entitled to the award upon qualification instead of being recommended for it. However, not every injury incurred during service qualifies a veteran for the Purple Heart.

Qualification

Purple Heart qualifying injuries include an injury that was caused by an enemy bullet or other projectile caused by enemy action, injury and especially concussion injuries caused by an enemy mine or explosive, injury caused by a chemical, biological, or nuclear agent, vehicle accident caused by enemy fire, and mild traumatic brain injury or concussive severe enough to cause either loss of consciousness or restriction from full duty due to persistent signs, symptoms, or clinical finding, or impaired brain functions for a period greater than 48 hours from the time of the concussive incident.

In addition to the above injuries, there are signs, symptoms, and medical conditions that if documented by a medical officer or professional would meet the threshold required to be awarded the Purple Heart. This non-exhaustive list includes: a diagnosis of concussion or mild traumatic brain injury, any period of loss or a decreased level of consciousness, any loss of memory for events immediately before or after the injury, neurological deficits (such as weakness, loss of balance, change in vision, difficulty with coordinating movements, etc.), headaches, nausea, difficulty with understanding or expressing words, sensitivity to light that may or may not be transient.

Injuries that do not justify qualification for the Purple Heart include frostbite (excluding severe frostbite requiring hospitalization from December 7, 1941, to August 22, 1951), trench foot or immersion foot, heatstroke, and many other injuries that were not a direct result of foreign enemy action.

Combat theater and unit command policies mandating rest periods or “downtime” following incidents do not constitute qualifying treatment for concussion injuries and therefore eligibility for the Purple Heart. To qualify as medical treatment, this rest period must have been directed by a medical officer or medical professional for the individual after diagnosis of an injury.

Examples

Examples of enemy-related injuries which clearly justify award of the Purple Heart are as follows:

  • Injury caused by enemy bullet, shrapnel, or other projectile created by enemy action
  • Injury caused by enemy placed mine or trap
  • Injury caused by enemy released chemical, biological, or nuclear agent
  • Injury caused by vehicle or aircraft accident resulting from enemy fire
  • Concussion injuries caused as a result of enemy generated explosions
  • Mild traumatic brain injury or concussive severe enough to cause either loss of consciousness or restriction from full duty due to persistent signs, symptoms, or clinical finding, or impaired brain functions for a period greater than 48 hours from the time of the concussive incident.

Examples of injuries or wounds which clearly do not justify award of the Purple Heart are as follows:

  • Frostbite (excluding severe frostbite requiring hospitalization from December 7, 1941, to August 22, 1951)
  • Trench foot or immersion foot
  • Heatstroke
  • Food poisoning not caused by enemy agents
  • Chemical, biological, or nuclear agents not released by the enemy
  • Battle fatigue
  • Disease not directly caused by enemy agents
  • Accidents, to include explosive, aircraft, vehicular, and other accidental woundings not related to or caused by enemy action
  • Self-inflicted wounds, except when in the heat of battle and not involving gross negligence
  • Post-traumatic stress disorders
  • Airborne (for example: parachute/jump) injuries not caused by enemy action
  • Hearing loss and tinnitus (for example: ringing in the ears)
  • Mild traumatic brain injury or concussions that do not either result in loss of consciousness or restriction from full duty for a period greater than 48 hours due to persistent signs, symptoms, or physical findings of impaired brain function
  • Abrasions and lacerations (unless of severity to be incapacitating)
  • Bruises (unless caused by the direct impact of the enemy weapon and severe enough to require treatment by a medical officer)
  • Soft tissue injuries (for example: ligament, tendon or muscle strains, sprains, and so forth)
  • First degree burns

Eligibility

Any member of the U.S. Army who believes that he/she is eligible for the Purple Heart, but under unusual circumstances were not awarded it, are able to submit an application through their chain of command to:

Awards and Decorations Branch

1600 Spearhead Division Avenue

Fort Knox, Kentucky 40122-5408

This application includes the following documents:

  • DD Form 214 (Certification of Release or Discharge from Active Duty);
  • SF 600 (Chronological Record of Medical Care);
  • One page narrative describing the injuring incident and the conditions present at the time;
  • Statements from at least two individuals who are not the proposed recipient who was personally present and observed the incident. Other official documents may be used to corroborate the narrative as well;
  • Casualty reports will be needed (if applicable);
  • Officer Record Brief/Enlisted Record Brief/DA Form 2-1, 2A, 2B, or 2C.
  • If you are Active Component, Army Reserve, or National Guard, the form below is also required:
    • DA Form 4187 (Chain of Command Endorsement, Deployment Orders, or Mobilization Roster).

You can find all of the VA Forms on their website.

Statutory Time Limits

It is important to note that statutory time limits regarding military decorations do not apply to the Purple Heart award. Purple Hearts may be awarded any time after the required documents and criteria have been met. If you or a veteran family member believes they deserve a Purple Heart, you should use this information to see if you qualify.

Learn more by downloading our U.S. Military Awards & Medals eBook!

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