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Health Chief Checks State of Care in Kosovo

By Douglas J. Gillert
American Forces Press Service

CAMP BONDSTEEL, Kosovo, Aug. 12, 1999 – One thing all the Army medics here agree on: This is not Bosnia.

It's the children, they told Dr. Sue Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, as she toured the 67th Combat Support Hospital Aug. 10.

"I have a 16-month-old daughter and it's really difficult to see these horribly injured children," said Maj. Jimmie Keenan, chief nurse. She said the hospital has seen so many children injured by land mines and gunshot wounds, "it's heartbreaking."

Operating in the southwestern sector of Kosovo, the U.S. medics have seen more civilian casualties than they ever saw in Bosnia, said Army Col. Russell Taylor, commander of Task Force Med Falcon, the 67th Combat Support Hospital from Wuerzberg, Germany.

"We have treated 37 trauma patients in less than 30 days, compared to the four a month we averaged in Bosnia," he said. They've also treated more land mine victims -- 15 -- than any other sector of Kosovo.

The primary mission of the medics here is, of course, to provide medical care to U.S. service members now based in Kosovo as part of Task Force Falcon. The 299th Forward Surgical Battalion at Camp Monteith and three battalion aid stations provide additional medical support.

Some of the problems soldiers here have sought help for include gastrointestinal disorders and stress, Keenan reported. "Soldiers are seeing a lot of horrible things, and we've had a lot more stress disorders in garrison," she said. Keenan said the medics and other soldiers have learned to watch each other for signs of stress, and commanders have removed any stigma attached to seeking counseling, so nobody is fearful of coming forward for help.

Although there have been no injuries as a direct result of peacekeeping duties, the hospital treated one soldier who was accidentally shot by his roommate as they cleaned their weapons Aug 7. After undergoing surgery at Camp Bondsteel, the soldier was medically evacuated to Germany's Landstuhl Medical Center Aug. 9 for further treatment.

Medical officials are most concerned about diseases carried by flying insects, Taylor told Bailey. He said military veterinarians have been rounding up as many cats and dogs as possible, giving them shots and neutering them, then letting them go. They also have been treating military working dogs and water supplies and controlling, as much as possible, human waste disposal.

The hospital operates ground ambulances and also coordinates aeromedical evacuations with the aid of an Air Force liaison team co-located with the Army medics. But the relatively good health of U.S. soldiers and the overwhelming needs of the civilian population have allowed the medics to focus more of their efforts on treating civilians.

"Life, limb and eyesight" is how Army Dr. (Brig. Gen.) Michael Kussman explained the extent of aid the Army is giving Kosovar civilians.

"The task force commander has agreed to allow U.S. military medics to aid refugees with the care they need immediately, as long as it doesn't jeopardize our care of U.S. forces," said Kussman, the senior U.S. military medical officer in Europe. "But it's the right thing to do, and the Brits and Germans are also treating refugee casualties."

Bailey's visit here was a follow-up to a trip to Albania in May to check on medical force protection measures in place and to find out what else is needed to ensure the safety of soldiers here and in future operations. She planned to meet later in the week with Gen. Wesley Clark, supreme allied commander, Europe, before returning to Washington.

"What we didn't do in the Gulf some are saying we're still not doing during this deployment" -- not screening soldiers for environmental health problems and not conducting enough preventive medicine, she said. Kussman assured her those issues are being worked vigorously, and Bailey said she saw ample evidence of that on this trip. She said the information she has gathered is vital to her ability to articulate DoD health budget requirements to Congress.

After visiting Camp Bondsteel, Bailey saw firsthand how the war affected civilian health care at the Fairzjha Hospital in nearby Urosevac. There, a Kosovar surgeon described the extreme lack of medical equipment and supplies, revealing that he once had nurses draw his blood while he continued an operation.

During a tour of the hospital, Bailey saw crutches whittled from saplings and a surgical suite lit by only a desk lamp with a single standard bulb. In a recovery ward, she greeted patients, including a teen-aged boy whose lower right leg had been blown away by a land mine.

To military and civilian medics alike, Bailey's parting message was the same: "You are doing a great job under difficult conditions, and I applaud you."

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Click photo for screen-resolution imageDr. Sue Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, discusses an X-ray of a hand wound with Army Maj. Terrance Gibboney at the task force manned 67th Combat Support Hospital, Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo. Bailey toured the hospital Aug. 10 as part of a return visit to the region, where she has gathered information on medical needs for force protection during current and future military deployments. A soldier suffered the hand wound in an accidental shooting incident. Photo by Douglas J. Gillert.   
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Click photo for screen-resolution imageArmy Maj. Jimmie Keenan, right, describes the health care of U.S. soldiers and refugees at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, to Dr. Sue Bailey, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, as other medical staff look on. Bailey toured the hospital Aug. 10 as part of a return visit to the region, where she has gathered information on medical needs for force protection during current and future military deployments. Photo by Douglas J. Gillert.   
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