Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Florida Guardsman Fighting to Get His Purple Heart

Wounded Iraq Vet Battles US Army
AOL News

(July 13) -- He's home from Iraq, but retired Florida National Guard Sgt. Ernie Rivera is fighting a new battle -- with the Army.

Rivera was awarded two Bronze Stars for his service, which he completed in 2007. But Rivera, who was hospitalized for six months, says he deserves a Purple Heart, according to the St. Petersburg Times. The Purple Heart is given to service members who've been wounded or killed while serving.

Records show Rivera was totally disabled by traumatic brain injury (TBI) related to combat, but the Army said it can't tell for sure whether it came from a roadside bomb that exploded in his convoy in December 2006 because his most severe symptoms didn't surface until weeks after the blast. He wasn't treated for any of his injuries immediately, thinking he'd escaped serious harm.

"I'm being punished for toughing it out," Rivera, 39, told the Times. "I can't see how a person can go through what I went through and still be denied a Purple Heart."

He said that in the weeks after the blast, his condition deteriorated. He started experiencing vertigo, muscle weakness, memory loss and problems with his cognition, vision and hearing. Rivera, a platoon leader, wasn't evacuated from the field until six months after the explosion.

Wayne Hall, an Army spokesman who commented to the paper generally on policy, said Rivera's delayed treatment may have been key in the Army's decision to deny him the honor.

"If it's not treated in pretty short order, there is no way to verify the injury he is now citing came from the blast," Hall said. "No one questions that TBI is a valid injury. But how do you verify what caused the TBI?"

Rivera plans to keep fighting for the award.

"It takes away from the validity of the Purple Heart," he said, "if you have to fight so hard to get it."

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Sounds like this guy deserves the Purple Heart. They need to take care of this injustice ASAP.

Charles M. Grist

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