Friday, 3 December 2010

........Never Forget.......... The Wounded In War Who Live In Pain....

......interesting article from one of our online papers in Australia....... makes you think........



"I chanced upon a photo recently, the kind that makes you wonder about the story behind it.

It was of an Australian soldier in a wheelchair. His right leg was elevated and bagged, and his hand rested firmly on the casket of a dead soldier.

I was sure Australians would have heard about the dead soldier, for we are good at acknowledging defence personnel killed in battle.

But would we have heard the story of the soldier in the wheelchair? This is less likely.

Australians are not alone in this. In a recent article about Britain's Afghanistan veterans, The Economist dubbed those soldiers severely physically and mentally injured by the war as "the unmourned".

Fifty-eight British soldiers in the first nine months of this year had their limbs blown off by bombs in Afghanistan. In all of 2009, there were 55. According to The Guardian, however, the British Ministry of Defence resisted releasing those figures until earlier this year.

It would appear that in Britain, as in Australia, militaries have been reluctant to provide a complete picture on the casualties of the Afghanistan war.

There are a couple of reasons for this. Severely injured soldiers need privacy as they recover, go through their rehabilitation and come to terms with their losses. But also, every severely injured soldier is another victory for insurgents in their information war.

The fact is that more soldiers are surviving injuries that a few years ago would have killed them. Why? All soldiers are getting more advanced first aid training, and medical evacuations out of conflict zones are happening more quickly. Modern Bushmaster vehicles are better protected against improvised explosive devices (IEDs). And today's IEDs are designed to cause more harm than ever before.

The danger, of course, in shielding the public from the realities of the impact of war on permanently injured soldiers is that we don't understand their sacrifice. It also means we let our political leaders get away with setting ever longer timelines for deploying our soldiers.

Injured soldiers are a reminder that there is nothing noble or glorious about war, because there is nothing noble or glorious about maiming human bodies.

There are signs, however, that as allied defence forces confront in ever-greater numbers the return of soldiers from war with permanent injuries, their approach to transparency is changing.

For the past two months, for instance, the Australian Defence Force has posted on its website details of how soldiers sustained their wounds in Afghanistan.

So we know of the 60 soldiers wounded this year (of 160 in total since 2002), 45 were wounded by improvised explosive devices, eight by Taliban contact and seven in a helicopter crash. We know nine of the soldiers had fractures, five had hearing loss, seven sustained gunshot wounds, seven had neurological injuries and so on. And we know three soldiers lost limbs.

Someone instrumental in this change is Ron Tattersall. He was brought out of retirement by the army a couple of years ago to develop a new project for looking after Australia's broken soldiers. One of the key aims behind Tattersall's program was to take away the injured soldier's greatest fear: discharge.

"Soldiers felt as soon as they had a serious injury they were going to be turfed out," said Tattersall.

As of late last year, it is official policy that this no longer happens in the ADF. Now, if a soldier is severely injured, they are put into a two-year rehabilitation program to help them get back into the ADF workforce.

If a soldier's injuries are so severe that returning to work in the ADF isn't possible, they enter a three-year rehabilitation program and are retrained for a return to work in the civilian world. Of the 31 soldiers in Tattersall's program, four are too injured to work again in the ADF.

Tattersall also learned that severely injured soldiers wanted a single case manager, a gatekeeper to cut through the red tape so they don't have to deal with 10 different people in their rehab. So they got one.

In a couple of weeks the consultancy firm KPMG will report back on its findings about what the ADF needs to do to have a "world's best practice" process for managing the severely injured and ill soldiers.

In addition, Defence is looking into establishing a centre of excellence for the rehabilitation of severely injured soldiers, along the lines of what exists in Britain, US and Canada. Because Australia's numbers are relatively small in comparison to the allies, this centre might be run in conjunction with a university or tertiary hospital so the public can use it, too.

Some of the changes Defence has implemented are a result of what it has learnt from the families of severely injured soldiers. Injured soldiers are often too embarrassed to talk about what is troubling them, but, says Tattersall, "the mums and dads were quite vocal".

It became apparent that in the scramble to evacuate the severely injured for life-saving surgery, the soldier's dignity was lost along the way. They'd have their clothes cut from their body but were given nothing, not even underpants, to put on, not a toothbrush to clean their teeth, and no money so they could watch the TV in their hospital room. This has been rectified.

The ADF is also involved in the Paralympic program, and four soldiers have been selected for the national team.

It is winter in Afghanistan now, the fighting season is over for another year and the news of battle casualties has slowed.

For the already wounded soldier, however, the task of rebuilding a life shattered by permanent injury goes on unabated. It is right that so much energy is now being spent by the ADF in looking after these people.

As for that picture, taken in August this year, I am told that the soldier in the wheelchair had fracture wounds and is recovering quite well."

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