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Treating Wounded Soldiers Like Obsolete iPods
There's a new rehab center for injured U.S. soldiers -- and the government isn't funding it. From a Newsweek story by Jessica Bennett:

With record numbers of soldiers surviving injuries that would have killed them in earlier wars, veterans' organizations are questioning whether the federal government is able--or is willing--to cope with the demand for health-care benefits, rehabilitation services and ongoing treatment. And if Washington can't do it, then who should?

Enter the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund. Since last July, the nonprofit group has raised more than $25 million in private funds for the construction of a training and rehabilitation center for soldiers returning from battle with catastrophic injuries and amputations. To be built on site at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, the 60,000-foot marble and granite Intrepid Center needs $10 million more before it can be completed. Once it's finished--tentatively in January, 2007--the Veterans Administration and the military will take over. The facility will be able to work with as many as 100 returning soldiers and veterans at any given time.

But should such an institution really be funded by private sources? Inevitably, organizations like Intrepid have raised questions about whether the Bush administration--committed to two wars--is too stretched to properly take care of returning veterans. "It’s surprising to us that there needs to be a facility that’s privately funded, and we hope that the Congress and the Bush administration will recognize that we need to meet these goals of the severely injured," says Peter Gayton, director of veterans affairs and rehabilitation at the American Legion. “The fact that the Intrepid Center needs to exist shows that the VA is not receiving enough funding."

The debate is being fueled by syndicated radio host Don Imus, who has donated $250,000 and has made raising money for the fund a regular feature on his morning show. On Friday he told listeners he doesn't know why "the government wouldn't just simply pay for [the center], considering the extraordinary amount of money they spend on ... this idiotic war." And later said "We have a tradition in this country, well, going back to the Civil War, in which we send off young people to fight these wars. Stuff happens to them. They lose their arms and legs. And we just discard them. You know, like they are iPods of old telephones or something."

One issue may be the number of wounded returning from America's two ongoing wars. “I don’t think anybody in the world expected the numbers of wounded coming back [from Afghanistan and Iraq],” says Bill White, the Intrepid Fund’s president. “In Vietnam, they would have died. And it’s wonderful that they’re alive, but they’ve survived catastrophic injuries that require them to get special help to rehabilitate.” According to U.S Senate research, the amputation rate has doubled from previous wars to 6 percent of those injured. Since 2000, the demand for prosthetic services has increased more than 30 percent, and is now funded at $1 billion annually by the Dept. of Veterans Affairs.

The Intrepid Fund aims to help bridge the gap between the services the VA is currently providing and what’s needed by soldiers on the ground. “Understanding that these men and women need our utmost gratitude and respect for the sacrifices they’ve made, we decided not to wait for the debate,” says White. “We decided to work with the military and say, ‘How can we help you?’”

The government (as in, we, the taxpayers), absolutely, positively should be funding whatever is needed for these soldiers. To the penny. It's the way it works in a china store: You break it, you pay for it. These people gave their arms and legs and more for their country. Don't we, at the very least, owe them the most first class rehab we can possibly give them?

Posted by aalkon at January 15, 2006 7:18 AM

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This will definitely be on my list of organizations earmarked for donations this year. It's appalling that for so many "suppoting the troops" means doing nothing more than sticking a crappy magnet on their SUV's.

Posted by: deja pseu at January 15, 2006 6:33 AM

It is axiomatic that those who claim to "support our troops" do nothing other than mouth slogans. Governmental agencies could be doing this work, but the public doesn't care unless they know someone personally.

I think there are two other things keeping government from doing this. 1) Joe Six-pack might subconsciously think that personal injury doesn't occur on a battlefield, or, when it does, the soldier was at fault as if he were at Six-pack's job; 2) Over a long time, no one has noticed the evolution of hospitals, from cheap rooms where you lived or died based on whether you were fit, to expensive cybernetics support facilities whose services are in demand by paying customers.

Decent medical care for others has never been a priority for any American struggling with the idea that "no service for others" means "no service" at all - but it's right there with not setting our guys up with the best equipment possible.

Posted by: Radwaste at January 15, 2006 12:19 PM

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