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Many Returning Soldiers May Require Long-Term Comprehensive Health Care

Since the beginning of the Iraq war in 2003, more than 12,000 soldiers have been seriously wounded suffering head and limb injuries caused by blast and shrapnel wounds. Soldiers who would have died in previous wars are coming home with traumatic brain injuries or as amputees (Bryant, 2005). These wounded soldiers will return to civilian life with serious wounds, disfiguring scars, or amputated limbs and will face greater challenges today obtaining assistance and finding opportunities that would enable them to provide for themselves and their families.

  • US troops injured in Iraq have required limb amputations at twice the rate of past wars, and as many as 20 percent have suffered head and neck injuries that may require a lifetime of care (Bennis, 2004; Mishra, 2004).

  • Depending upon the severity and location of the wound, it may take weeks from the time of a soldier’s initial traumatic amputation to the final healing of the wound before it is ready for a prosthetic (Boivin, 2004).

  • Head, face and neck injuries are not uncommon in combat environments and are increasing due to survivable injuries from the use of Kevlar helmets and body armor (Helling & McKinlay, 2005; Okie, 2005). While body armor helps save soldiers' lives, it can't prevent their brains from absorbing the force of a concussive blast or a bullet deflected off a helmet. (Larabee, 2005)

  • Soldiers in both Iraq and Afghanistan are at risk for blast injuries from improvised explosive devices (IEDs), rocket-propelled grenades and land mines. It has been estimated that over 50% of all combat injuries are blast injuries (Brian Injury Association of American, 2005)

  • Brain injuries add a new element of difficulty to casualty assessment, because the injuries are challenging to diagnose and difficult to differentiate from symptoms of other injuries, such as the symptoms of psychological stress. Brain injuries can exert themselves in physical, cognitive or emotional symptoms, and left untreated they can pose significant hurdles to recovery.

  • According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders, symptoms of a TBI can be mild, moderate, or severe depending on the extent of the damage to the brain. Approximately half of severely head-injured patients will need surgery to remove or repair ruptured blood vessels or bruised brain tissue (McCraken, 2005).

  • The uncertainties of life after discharge for the remarkable large number of amputees and other wounded combatants (Gawande, 2004). These injuries may have long-term effects on the veterans’ quality of like, marital adjustment, vocational opportunities, self-image, marital adjustment, vocational opportunities, self-image, future outlook, and mental health (Murdoch et al., 2003). Often when injured soldiers attempt to transition back to civilian life with their new physical disability, they are met with a multitude of obstacles. This is a major issue for these veterans (Bennis, 2004).


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