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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Doctor of OEF/OIF War Wounded: "They Are So Brave"

The New York Daily News presents an op-ed piece written by Dr. Gene Bolles, "chief of neurosurgery from November 2001 to February 2004 at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, America's tertiary hospital serving our troops." As we arrive at 20,000+ wounded and 2,600 killed in action, the physician remembers those he's crossed paths with these past three years.

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With the third anniversary of Operation Iraqi Freedom upon us, I am reminded of war's horrors, but also of the unparalleled sacrifice and loyalty of the men and women who serve this nation. During my time at Landstuhl, I evaluated hundreds of men and women. As a civilian not in their chain of command, the servicemen and women often confided to me that they were living in constant fear as witnesses to the agony of war — the smell and sounds of death; seeing their buddies mutilated, along with Iraqi men, women and children.

Most of those who are killed or wounded are under the age of 22. Those who are seriously injured (some with only one extremity remaining, some blinded and severely disfigured) frequently express a strong desire to go back to their units to complete their tour of duty and protect their buddies.

He tells the story of a 19-year old woman who came to him with severe back injuries; and he remembers the 21-year old man who'd lost two limbs, yet was still more worried about his buddies.

They are, every one of them, true heroes. And it is these heroes who pay the many human costs of war.

In addition to post-traumatic stress disorder (it is estimated that 35% are afflicted), there is traumatic brain injury (often disabling, unrecognized and untreated), chronic pain and spinal damage, blindness and the questionable effects of undepleted uranium. Instances of amputation in the Iraq War are reportedly double previous rates, and while the military medical care is the best in the world, there are still long-term problems with disability and chronic pain often requiring multiple surgeries.

I have the highest regard for the medical care offered by the Veterans Administration and our military. But there are many problems associated with the bureaucracy, which often stymies the efficiency of the delivery of care, which is paramount. After soldiers are discharged, they are dependent on our Veterans Administration, an overloaded and underfunded system. This system designates only 30 minutes per month for treatment of post-traumatic stress, and can take from six months to a year to provide treatment in various specialty clinics.

Unfortunately, our global war on terror is only going to add to the number of veterans suffering from war-related injuries.

Our esteemed athletes in the NBA, NFL and NCAA receive medical care and appropriate testing almost immediately upon being injured. Our soldiers and their families deserve no less. If we can spend $7 billion to $10 billion dollars a month on a war, we must also afford to help rebuild lives impacted by this war.

Food for thought, indeed.

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