Sunday, July 29, 2007

Old Soldiers Never Die

A story in to-day's Toronto Star was devoted to the potential, problems of head injuries facing soldiers in to-day's war zones.

Starting with the use of antibiotics in preventing septic poisoning and combating pneumonia in wounded soldiers back in World War Two the mortality rate among military personnel began to decline. That continued with the application of quick evacuation during the Vietnam and other wars where the helicopter made surgical attention within 2 or 3 hours of being hurt a reality. To-day the big killers are no longer shock and lack of care, but blood loss and head injury. The first is being attenuated with a clotting product that acts something like a cement plug to stop massive bleeding. But the latter remains difficult to treat. Closed head injuries due to blast effect are cited as a major cause of death and maiming. It strikes me, however, that any blast that could injure the brain without piercing the skull would probably wreak havoc on soft tissue like the lungs and gut.

Head injuries are notable - not only for their intractability but because of the physical and emotional devastation they cause. If you're not bleeding, you're not hurt. If you're not hurt then any problems you've got are probably mental or self-inflicted. This seems to have been what has happened in the US where 'injured' soldiers have tried to seek paid treatment and been brushed off by Veteran's Administration and the Army. Many army veterans think little of the unmarked wounded and their claims - remembering that 80 percent of 'veterans' don't serve on the sharp end of the stick, and chance are, will return home intact. The Army family has a pecking order and unwounded but 'hurt' soldiers are fairly well down the list.

Canada has yet to see things like this, but then we haven't the same numbers engaged. The severely-wounded are looked after - I don't know what their pension and insurance benefits are like, but their care and treatment is covered and, I believe, their families are looked after. If we are to have problems it will show up in other areas - family discord, drug and drinking problems and affects such as that. A number of ' family support' groups have been started in the military to address and assist with these needs. The problems have yet to become highly evident.

Soldiers are hurt, as always, in wars, but thankfully not as many die. This means that for the fourth time in the USA and the third in Great Britain and Canada there will be appreciable numbers of war wounded living out their lives in the future. The wounded of the previous wars are long gone now, but it doesn't strike me that their welfare was any more than the target of some annual charitable exercise - their families were, by no means, as well-off, as if they had been working. In America some wounded veterans of Vietnam paid the price for a lost war in reduced public interest in their plight. They even received hostility, and still do, from a number of their own, who hadn't seen the same type of service and couldn't understand how they could have behavioral problems rooted in their experiences. What happens in the future will be a measure of how seriously we take our wars, I don't think they're taken seriously at all.

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