Wounded warriors: Help yourself to big-game hunting, but don't expect a purple heart

America loves its wounded soldiers. So much so that the Colorado Wildlife Commission will offer free big-game hunting licenses this fall to Colorado veterans severely wounded in action overseas over the past nine years.

Still, that might not be much consolation for possibly thousands of soldiers the Army has apparently denied the Purple Heart.

According to a ProPublica and NPR investigation, Army commanders regularly deny Purple Hearts, the medal bestowed upon soldiers killed or wounded in battle, to those who sustained mild traumatic brain injuries in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, the top medical commander in Iraq even told medics to not even discuss the Purple Heart with such soldiers.

Traumatic brain injuries, post-traumatic stress disorder and other kinds of psychological damage have become the signature wounds of the wars in Iraq in Afghanistan. But because the Army has struggled with acknowledging and treating the injuries, many ailing soldiers have fallen through the cracks, leaving it up to overworked veterans advocates and innovative civilian treatment programs to try to help them.

Still, according to the ProPublica/NPR investigation, there doesn't seem to be much question as to whether soldiers with mild traumatic brain injuries should get Purple Hearts. According to Army regulations, concussion injuries caused by enemy explosions "clearly justify" the medal.

So how many wounded veterans have been shafted? The Army hasn't been keeping track, but nearly 25,000 soldiers have been awarded Purple Hearts for wounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, while about 90,000 Army soldiers have sustained mild traumatic brain injuries there.

Even without this badge of honor and sacrifice, wounded soldiers in Colorado will still able to blast away at deer, elk and pronghorn courtesy of Colorado Senate Bill 10-211 and the Colorado Wildlife Commission. This fall, participants in the Army's Wounded Warrior programs will score free big-game licenses for private-land hunting, capped at five licenses per game management unit or 2 percent of the total, whichever is greater. Those interested in participating should contact Erik Slater at 303-291-7380.

"Offering free big-game licenses is just a small token of the gratitude we all feel toward the men and women who have served our country so courageously," said Wildlife Commission chairman Tim Glenn in a press release. "We want them to know their sacrifice will not be forgotten."

Well, not completely forgotten.

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Joel Warner is a former staff writer for Westword and International Business Times. He's also written for WIRED, Men's Journal, Men's Health, Bloomberg Businessweek, Popular Science, Slate, Grantland and many other publications. He's co-author of the 2014 book The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, published by Simon & Schuster.
Contact: Joel Warner