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Military Medicine Goes Out on a Limb

 

When Forest Gump fans think of “Lt.Dan,” they envision an angry, paraplegic Vietnam vet condemned to a wheelchair; shunned and ignored by the America he fought for.

That’s the combat veteran of conflicts past.

Now, thanks to advancements in military medical care and artificial limbs, amputees have choices, which, for some, includes walking, running, and even returning to active duty.

Based on Department of Defense statistics shared in an August 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service, between the years of 2001-2015, there were 6,855 deaths and 52,351 wounded in action throughout Afghanistan and Iraq conflicts including: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF); Operation Freedom’s Sentinel (OFS); Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF); Operation New Dawn (OND); and Operation Inherent Resolve (OIR). Of those wounded, 1,645 suffered major limb amputations.

Hundreds of amputees have stayed on active duty and some have even returned to battle with the aid of advanced prosthetics that restore function of lost hands, feet, arms and legs, leaving the days of being confined to a wheelchair and crutches long behind them.

The cost of prosthetics is still a challenge, as they can run thousands to tens of thousands of dollars, withstanding only a few years of wear-and-tear, with few exceptions. Prosthetics are custom-fitted to each patient. But as patients become more physically active, their physiques may change, requiring a new fit.  Because most vets are injured in their twenties, this means many years of physical therapy and costly replacement parts in their futures.

Fortunately, much of the costs of care are covered under TRICARE, the military’s healthcare plan, VA benefits, and by organizations specializing in the support of wounded warriors, such as the Center for the Intrepid, a rehabilitation treatment center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas.

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