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Defense Department to Change Blood-Donation Policy

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Sept. 7, 2007 – The Defense Department is changing its military blood-donation regulations to allow for a wider spectrum of civilian donors.

Current department rules only permit blood donations from servicemembers, Defense Department civilians, retirees and their family members, Navy Cmdr. Michael C. Libby, director of the Armed Services Blood Program Office, told American Forces Press Service and Pentagon Channel reporters.

The new policy will enable non-Defense Department affiliated civilians to donate blood through the Armed Services Blood Program at collection points located on department or federal property, Libby explained.

The policy change, slated to become effective later this month, will address concerns of veterans who aren't military retirees, but nonetheless want to donate blood for the troops, Libby said. The change also should facilitate the collection of rare type AB blood plasma, a blood type that's possessed by about 3 to 4 percent of the U.S. population.

The Armed Services Blood Program Office purchases more than 100 units, or pints, of AB blood plasma each week, Libby said. The policy change, he added, should also result in the military having increased availability of blood products derived from the rare AB blood type.

Commentary that appeared in Ohio- and North Carolina-based publications had criticized the military's current blood-collection policy, noting it was overly restrictive toward many civilians wanting to give blood.

After the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, Walter Reed Army Medical Center has established several off-campus blood-collection sites, including one at the Pentagon, said Army Lt. Col. Francisco J. Rentas, chief of Walter Reed's blood services department.

The military also maintains several other large blood-collection sites across the United States, Rentas said.

"If you're eligible to donate to the Armed Services Blood Program, we can always use you," Rentas said.

There is plenty of blood available for overseas-deployed servicemembers in Afghanistan and Iraq, said Navy Cmdr. Brian K. Williamson, the director of the Navy's blood program who also served a tour of duty as the joint blood program officer in Qatar.

Military units deployed in the thick of fighting have to travel light and just carry a modest inventory of blood that's used for treating servicemembers injured on the battlefield, Williamson said. That's why some injured servicemembers receive on-the-spot blood donations from their "battle buddies," he explained.

Williamson said he knows of cases where some battlefield-wounded troops received as much as 30 pints of blood from their comrades.

Quick-coagulating blood platelets that can slow the rate of bleeding are now being provided to smaller, forward-deployed units, Williamson said.

The military is meeting the need very well in providing sufficient blood and blood products for treating injured servicemembers, Williamson said.

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