Attrition: Doctor Silicon Sees Invisible Injuries

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February 26, 2008: Faster computers and better software are uncovering hidden medical problems. More powerful statistical analysis, of a growing number of new medical tests, has enabled U.S. military doctors to detect physical and psychological problems soldiers didn't even knew they had, and that oftenwould not turn into painful or debilitating conditions for decades (unless treated long before that.) To take advantage of this new capability, the U.S. Army is now giving troops annual medical exams. Previously, this was only done every five years. In addition, since the war in Iraq began, troops have been getting physicals before they went to a combat zone, and after they returned.

Medical technology has made much progress in the last decade, in developing new tests, or better ways to analyze data collected from tests that have been around for a while. Moreover, the vast amount of medical data collected from World War II, Korea and Vietnam combat veterans (who developed problems years later and got treated at Veterans Administration hospitals) can now be analyzed with more powerful software, and in light of problems those wartime injuries eventually developed into. This has enabled seemingly minor battlefield injuries to be identified as something that will become serious eventually, if not treated sooner. The annual medical exams will make it possible to catch injuries and diseases like these as early as possible. The end result will be seen in four or five decades, when Iraq war veterans end up having fewer combat related problems than their World War II era grandfathers did.

 


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