Since combat began in Afghanistan in October 2001,
nearly 20,000 American military personnel have been wounded in action,
according to the Defense Department. Many of these injuries have
been life-threatening, requiring multiple surgeries, extensive rehabilitation
and ongoing care.
But the immediate financial and logistical challenge
of coping with the thousands of severely wounded is just the first
problem military and civilian authorities face.
|More military assistance stories:
Down the road, these active-duty and reservist military
personnel will need employment, housing and health-care assistance
for years to come. And with the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq
continuing, with no end in sight, it is likely that more will be
killed or wounded in action.
A study by the Insurance Information Institute, or
III, reports that the average soldier in Iraq has a 1-in-300 chance
of being wounded in action. Department of Defense statistics reveal
that nearly 500 personnel are wounded in action in any given month.
Extrapolating from these figures, the III study estimates that,
absent a significant drawdown of troop strength in the near future,
60,000 to 80,000 troops may ultimately end up wounded.
Government programs and facilities are overwhelmed,
and civilian employers and health-care providers also must prepare
to deal with wounded and traumatized vets in the years to come.
"While the vast majority of military personnel will
enjoy a relatively seamless re-entry to civilian life and employment,
following a pattern established by veterans of past conflicts, reintegration
of the physically and psychologically injured will likely present
unexpected challenges to a generation of employers with no experience
in dealing with such large numbers of returning veterans," says
Robert Hartwig, author of the III study and the institute's chief
How the military handles injuries
The military divides those wounded in action into several classifications,
including very seriously injured, seriously ill or injured, incapacitating
illness or injury, or not seriously injured.
All service members are assigned case managers to
work with them and their relatives during their recovery periods,
according to the Department of Defense. The services may pay for
travel expenses and housing for up to three close relatives of very
seriously or seriously injured personnel so that they can be with
their wounded relatives.
Seriously wounded and very seriously wounded service
members are generally treated at one of eight designated medical
facilities, such as Walter Reed Army Medical Center, in Washington,
D.C., and Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland. The Department of
Defense and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, or VA, work
together to ensure that wounded service members get the medical
care and benefits they need.
While the system is working more efficiently than it ever has, resources are very strained, says Joe Violante, national legislative director for the Disabled American Veterans.
"The funding for the VA always seems to fall short of what is needed, and that results in delays in treatment and care for all veterans," he says. "In fact, in 2005 the VA was more than $1 billion short in funds and was forced to use funds earmarked for facility maintenance and capital improvements for daily operations. This means there are VA facilities where the operating rooms have no air conditioning and buildings that are literally falling apart."