February 26, 2019
Tom Vanden Brook | USA Today
WASHINGTON – Veterans awarded the Purple Heart medal for wounds in combat will receive top priority for their claims with the Veterans Affairs Department, VA Secretary Robert Wilkie announced Tuesday.
Beginning in April, veterans with the Purple Heart medal will be placed in the department’s top-priority category for disability benefit claims, along with Medal of Honor recipients and those with severe, service-related disabilities.
"I will be announcing that for those who hold the Purple Heart, the recognition of wounds taken in battle, that we will now place those who hold that decoration at the front of the line when it comes to claims before the Veterans department," Wilkie told a House Appropriations Committee hearing.
Veterans with Purple Heart medals are now assigned to the third of eight priority groups. The third group includes former prisoners of war, and those with a service-connected disability of between 10 percent and 20 percent.
Purple Heart recipients are exempt from copayments for their medical care, according to the VA .
"The VA’s mission is to take care of America’s wounded, ill and injured servicemen and women," said Joe Davis, a spokesman for the Veterans of Foreign Wars. "Despite some questions regarding implementation, the VFW sees this as VA honoring its assigned mission by ensuring those who shed blood defending our nation receive priority service."
The Purple Heart is the oldest U.S. military decoration. General George Washington awarded the first version to wounded soldiers in the Continental Army during the American Revolution.
The Pentagon does not maintain a record of the number of troops who have received a Purple Heart medal, according to a report by the Congressional Research Service in January. The report cites estimates of more than one million by military historians.