Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Beyond the Purple Heart

This week's New England Journal of Medicine has an article about the fate of soldiers wounded in Iraq. You need a subscription for full access, but the intro will suffice for my purposes today:
Beyond the Purple Heart - Continuity of Care for the Wounded in Iraq
January 20, 2005
James B. Peake, M.D.

You can hear the usual hum of the emergency room, and all the familiar beeps of monitors in the operating room provide a backdrop for medical teams boasting the usual collection of skills and following the typical team approach to injured patients. But beyond the generic hospital buzz, the background noises are unusual. The whoosh and explosion of incoming mortars and the loud whine of the turbo engines of Blackhawk helicopters bringing patients, often directly from the point of wounding, distinguish the military combat support hospitals and forward surgical teams in Iraq from the ERs and ORs back home. Different also are the spectrum of patients seen here and the frequency of major penetrating traumas. Many of these patients are U.S. soldiers who have sustained devastating injuries from high-velocity gunshots or fragments from explosions. Thus far, during the war in Iraq, the Army has awarded more than 5000 Purple Hearts for injuries sustained in combat. [...]
Five thousand Purple Hearts.  Surely, nobody is going to argue that the soldiers deserve at least some recognition.  Also, they deserve significant compensation, such as free medical care for the rest of their lives.  One of my father's rare dinner-table lectures, when I was maybe ten years old, had to do with government cutbacks in VA Hospital benefits.  He made it very clear that wounded veterans should get all the care they need.

I can't help but wonder about one thing, though.  Thirty years from now, will any of the soldiers wounded in Iraq be running for public office?  If so, how many will have their honor besmirched by politically-motivated hatchet men?