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Wounded Troop Care Must Be ‘Cutting Edge,’ Vice Chairman Says

By Tech. Sgt. Adam M. Stump, USAF
Special to American Forces Press Service

RICHMOND, Va., Jan. 28, 2008 – Health care for wounded troops needs to remain on the cutting edge of technology, the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said during a visit to a Department of Veterans Affairs medical facility here.

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Dr. David Cifu, McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center medical director, tells Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright, vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes of Virginia; and Sandy Cartwright, the general’s wife, about treatment facilities at the center in Richmond, Va., Jan. 24, 2008. Cartwright and Forbes visited the center to learn about the different programs the VA has to treat servicemembers. Photo by Tech. Sgt. Adam M. Stump, USAF

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

Marine Corps Gen. James E. Cartwright visited the McGuire VA Medical Center Jan. 24 with Virginia U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes to learn about the McGuire mission and to spend time with the patients and staff.

The general said the importance of constantly doing research on war injuries is a major priority.

“We have to keep track of what’s going on,” Cartwright said. “We can’t let our guard down. We have to make sure we’re on the cutting edge of technology and medicine. The research has to be done, and we have to be thinking for the long term.”

The general’s visit included a roundtable discussion with senior medical specialists from the center, part of which centered on understanding blast injuries. Dr. Shane McNamee, a medical director at the center, said the staff is working on funding for sensors mounted to soldiers’ helmets to understand blast injuries and how they affect the brain.

The vice chairman also learned about ongoing construction in the center, which includes a Fisher House set to open in mid-June. The Fisher House provides free or low-cost lodging to veterans and military families receiving treatment at military medical centers.

Another way the hospital is helping wounded servicemembers is working with the armed services to find appropriate jobs for wounded troops. McNamee told the general about a combat medic from Fort Bragg, N.C., who was wounded and couldn’t go back into combat. The medic had a wealth of knowledge from multiple deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, so the center staff worked with the Army to find him a position as an instructor, imparting his knowledge to future combat medics.

Despite the successes, one of the challenges the staff and the military has is identifying servicemembers who need help but don’t have glaring injuries.

“The more difficult problem for us is the less traumatically injured,” the vice chairman said, noting that those people are harder to recognize. When servicemembers have injuries that don’t require acute care -- broken bones or rehabilitative injuries, for example -- it makes their diagnosis harder, said Dr. David Cifu, chief of physical medicine and rehabilitation at McGuire.

Cifu said one another issue facing patients is getting through the transition period. Some patients face marital difficulty a few months after coming to the center, he said, adding that a second wave of marital difficulty sometimes happens one to two years after a a patient leaves. To combat this, the center has social workers who help servicemembers throughout their entire transition.

The center also is working on developing peer groups in which successful couples help other couples just starting the transition.

After hearing these and other stories, the general said meeting the “incredibly dedicated staff” was one of the highlights of the visit. He also said he had arrived unsure of what to expect of the patients because of their conditions, but that he left inspired.

“You walk out of a place like this and you’re so strengthened and heartened by their strength,” he said. “It’s contagious.”

(Air Force Tech. Sgt. Adam M. Stump is assigned to the Joint Staff Public Affairs Office.)

Contact Author

Gen. James E. Cartwright, USMC

Related Sites:
McGuire VA Medical Center
Photo Essay: Vice Chairman Visits Veterans Hospital in Richmond, Va.

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