A Purple Heart Denied

Sharyl Attkisson is the Capitol Hills Correspondent for CBS News.
The Purple Heart story I reported for tonight's Evening News really tugged at my heartstrings.

Like most Americans, I suppose, I'm a big fan of the work our soldiers do for us every day. I've traveled and even trained with the military for stories. I embedded with the Air Force, flew on a combat mission over Kosovo on a B-52, flew on an F-15 Combat Air Patrol flight, and traveled to Peru with Army soldiers. The expectations put upon the young men and women who protect us -- and the extent to which they're able to deliver -- never ceases to amaze me.

The story is about a soldier injured in combat and approved for a Purple Heart, but denied the award further up the chain of command. It's happened to more than just one soldier. Why and how many? It's hard to say. The Pentagon doesn't track how many Purple Hearts are "disapproved" or the reasons. But we found pockets of cases, and evidence that at least five members of Congress have tried to intervene on behalf of various troops.

For the soldiers, it's not just about getting honor or glory. You have to get inside their heads a little bit and imagine what they've gone through. The mental and physical energy they've used to get through day after week after month in tense combat situations with their lives in danger. The time they've given up with their lives, their families, their businesses. A brush with death in the form of a combat injury--one that often renders them permanently disabled--is a known risk. But once they've made that sacrifice, they're promised that a grateful nation recognizes them with a Purple Heart: something tangible they can look at when they suffer the emotional and physical effects of their national service.

To have a justified award denied-- whether due to bureaucratic bungling, lost paperwork, or other reasons-- sends them into an emotional tailspin. It's difficult enough to morph back into civilian life and cope with ongoing injuries. I would guess most of them don't have the wherewithal to try to battle the how's and why's of the denial. And why should they have to beg for something to which they're entitled?

If you know someone else who's possibly been denied a legitimate Purple Heart, I'd like to know about it. You can e-mail me at the CBS Evening News address: evening@cbsnews.com.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.