Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Troops treated well overseas, but trouble brewing stateside

Thomas Marcetti, Staff Writer
Everyone at the Commander’s Dinner at American Legion Post 53 in Hillsdale was thinking about one thing Monday night.

The health of U.S. troops and veterans.

Dr. Joseph Painter said medical treatment for the troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan is best the military has provided, but he is concerned with the way service men and women are treated when they return home from overseas.

Painter is a colonel in the Army and is the chief of radiology at the Hillsdale Community Health Center. He has served in active and reserve capacities overseas and in the military hospitals in the U.S.

Painter said advances in medical techniques and equipment have meant thousands more troops have been saved in the current conflict.

“Thirty percent of American troops injured in World War II died,” he said. “That dropped to 24 percent in Vietnam and is now only 10 percent in Iraq.”

He said as firepower has increased, lethality has decreased.

Aside from advances in medical technology, Painter said battlefield medical units have changed the way they deal with injuries.

“It used to be like the show M.A.S.H. They would wait in a field hospital for the wounded soldiers to be flown in,” he said. “Now we fly the hospital to the wounded soldiers.”

These rapid response units are sent to the front lines to set up temporary hospitals to treat the soldiers on site.

Painter said the units include six Humvee trucks loaded with equipment and medical staff. A fully functional 900–square–foot hospital can be set up and be fully operational in less than 60 minutes.

These temporary facilities can perform 30 three–hour surgeries before having to dismantle, Painter said.

Severe injuries that require definitive treatment are stabilized and sent to hospitals in Europe or back to the U.S. for the most acute cases. Painter said during Vietnam bringing a wounded soldier to a U.S. hospital took an average of 45 days. It now takes less than four.

With so much care being taken for soldiers in the field, Painter said is a shame to think they are being neglected when they return.

“As these troops are returning from Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraq Freedom we’re not sure what to expect,” he said. “Veteran Affairs is identifying symptoms among new veterans that are similar to previous veterans.”

He said more than 18 percent of veterans suffer from post traumatic stress syndrome, and that most cases are not reported.

The government is not doing enough to provide support for the emotional damage the troops have endured, Painter said and they have definitely not provided for them medically.

“It took five years for them to admit the troops in the first Gulf War were exposed to chemicals,” he said.

There still has been no research into the effects of that exposure, he said.

The newest threat to the troops are the very weapons they have been using.

Deleted uranium rounds are used against tanks and heavily armored targets because they are made of the heavy metal that results from making weapon’s grade plutonium.

The rounds cause tremendous damage and explode on impact, Painter said. The problem is the uranium is radioactive and the explosion turns the particles into dust that can be inhaled by troops, particularly clean–up crews.

“The United Kingdom and Japan have already signed pacts saying they won’t use depleted uranium weapons anymore,” he said. “Reports indicated over 40 tons of depleted uranium rounds were left on the ground after the first gulf war.”

Depleted uranium has a half–life of more than 4.5 billion years, which means not only are people still being exposed to radiation from munitions used in the early ’90s, they will continue to be exposed well beyond the span of comprehension.

“I think this is the greatest country in the world,” Painter said. “I was all about mom, baseball and apple pie, but these things make you wonder. The government knows it, but they have their head in the sand.”

Third District Commander Ernie Engles said Painter had been recommended to him by a friend and after speaking with Painter he knew the presentation would be a good one.

“I knew we would get a top–notch program because we’d have a top–notch person,” he said.

Thomas Marcetti can be reached at (517) 437–6014 or via e–mail at thomas.marcetti@hillsdale.net.

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