“To care for him who shall have borne the battle, and for his widow and his orphan.”—Abraham Lincoln (1809-1863), 16th president of the United States, on the importance of caring for the nation’s war veterans.
At press time, figures released by the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count (icasualties.org) indicate that more than 1.5 million troops have been deployed into combat since the beginning of the current Middle Eastern conflict in March 2003. Of that number, 3,863 have died, and an estimated 28,451 (and counting) have been wounded in action. While those figures are staggering, amazing strides in modern battlefield medicine have resulted in an unprecedented increase in the survival rate among combat-injured soldiers.
Of these war wounded, the Veterans Administration reports a stunning number of such life-altering injuries as excessive brain trauma, multiple limb loss, spinal cord damage, and burns, as well as mental health and readjustment cases. Each of these soldiers—not to mention their loved ones—faces a long, grueling personal war of healing and rehabilitation, as he or she prepares for the future, either as a civilian, or in continued government service (in fact, many are returning to active duty).
Even as wartime injuries spur astonishing medical and rehabilitative advances, as seen in the recent evolution of prosthetic technology and traumatic brain injury treatments (that have enabled many war injured to adjust to their new physical capabilities), the issue of injured veterans’ care has recently come front and center. There are complaints of improper care and overrun facilities charged with handling veterans’ care. Also, the long-terms costs associated with prolonged medical care are being discussed (some analysts anticipate the costs of treating soldiers wounded in Iraq will eventually top out at $600 billion).
So what can and should be done to ensure that veterans receive the care they deserve and, most importantly, need? The situation calls for dedicated government funding for the crucial physical medicine and rehabilitation programs that will provide necessary treatments for recovering war wounded. If we are going to send men and women to war, we must be better prepared to handle the casualties of those wars. More funding in the war budget needs to be directed to those efforts. Unfortunately, there are no immediate solutions.
Regardless of the length of this military intervention and the attached political sentiments, the reality is that an unprecedented number of American soldiers fighting in Iraq will return home, requiring a continuum of long-term and rehabilitative care. For many of them, the war will not end when they are home. Some of their biggest battles may come as they rehabilitate from whatever injuries—physical, mental, or emotional—they may endure.
Beyond the financial needs, occupational, physical, and speech therapists must prepare for the long, challenging trek ahead, caring for the unprecedented number of injured who will need a long-term and rehabilitation continuum of care—not to mention the considerable costs of specialized care—that will only increase in years to come. And there may be another “hat” the therapists will need to wear when providing rehabilitation: that of psychologist.
The staff of Rehab Management would like to take this opportunity to wish its readers a joyous holiday season, and may we all know peace, good health, and contentment in the year to come.
—Rogena Schuyler Silverman