November 15, 2010

Battlefield medicine: technologies that may yield benefits for injured workers

Last week, our nation honored its veterans for service rendered to the country. Although belatedly, we join in offering thanks. One could make the case that our nation's gratitude should be a 365-day-a-year tribute rather than largely confined to a single celebratory day. On returning home, many veterans face an enormous hurdle, the day-in-day-out battle of finding employment, a formidable challenge for any vet but made even more difficult in the current economy. Beyond an expression of appreciation, there are many good reasons why employers should hire vets. The U.S. Department of Labor has collaborated with Office of Disability Employment Policy (ODEP), the Veterans' Employment and Training Service (VETS), and other federal agencies to offer a Step-by-Step Employer Toolkit for Hiring Veterans.

In addition to their military service, there is another debt that we owe to our vets, particularly those who have been wounded physically or psychologically. It is one of life's great ironies that war, which is responsible for so much death and destruction, is also a catalyst for the advance of medicine and medical technologies.

Just as weapons become more sophisticated, so too do the medical technologies designed treat the wounds that these weapons exact. From wars in ancient times to the present, civilian medicine has been advanced by battlefield medicine, first practiced on wounded warriors.


Wired Magazine has been one of the ongoing sources we turn to get our fix about battlefield advances in medical technology. A recent article - Military's Freakiest Medical Projects - is a fascinating case in point, highlighting advances in prosthetic limbs, skin grafts, burn repair, bone cement, suspended animation, and more. The article's intro explains that "Some of the Pentagon's extreme medical innovations have already debuted in the war zone. And with myriad applications outside of combat, these advances in military medicine mean that revolutionary changes for civilian care aren't far behind."

Another recent article - Exoskeletons, Robo Rats and Synthetic Skin: The Pentagon's Cyborg Army - focuses on technologies that foster recovery, such as neurally controlled prosthetics, or that enhance performance, such as wearable exoskeletons that amplify amplify troop strength and endurance.

As exciting as these developments are, not all effective treatments rely on advanced technology - some are reassuringly "old-school." A case in point is this heartwarming story about vets with PTSD who train service dogs as companions for vets in wheelchairs. The dogs do double duty, serving as therapy dogs for those with PTSD while they are being trained, and later as helper dogs for those confined in wheelchairs. You can learn more about this most excellent program at Paws for Purple Hearts.

And if you doubt the healing and restorative power of dogs, we leave you with this evidence: an incredible compilation of clips of dogs welcoming home soldiers. One warning: have a box of tissues nearby!



I do appreciate the sentiment, though we as a country lack the insight to fully consider that it takes at least as much time to prepare a young man to servive let alone be successful at "war" as it does for them to put aside those skills for peace time at home. I did not volunteer for two tours in Vietnam. I had the misfortune of being bilingual. When I came home it was literally out of combat and a 30 hour plane ride to my parents home. To this day it was hard to say which reality was more shocking. No one wanted to hire me even as a college graduate at the top of my class...I was one of them..."thank you John Kerry"....rk

Hi Julie,

Wonderful blog!

As I read your post today, I wanted to share a few thoughts. But first, thank you Richard for your service and sharing your experience.

We were visiting the Carlisle Barracks in Pennsylvania last summer, and it is a pre-revolutionary army post where the first medical military hospital was located. Some displays discussed that many medical innovations were the result of battlefield and military care. Fascinating facility with a military museum and outdoor display of battlefield reconstructions from every major war from the Revolution to Afghanistan. Walking through the WWI trenches was particularly moving. I highly recommend it if your travels take you near the Harrisburg PA area.

On the issue of employment, I was speaking with a relative the other day who is in HR for the navy, and she specifically said they are looking to hire disabled veterans and non-veterans, they are actively in outreach to build up their employment of this group. There is a "wounded warrior" program for this purpose.

Thank you for this post!



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This page contains a single entry by Julie Ferguson published on November 15, 2010 2:02 PM.

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