Morale: Veterans Administration Sees The Future


November 20, 2007: The U.S. Veterans Administration (VA) takes care of about 22 million military veterans. Most were born after World War II. In fact, there are more Vietnam vets alive now that those from World War II and Korea. There are also over 600,000 vets of Iraq and Afghanistan, and that number is growing by about 100,000 a year. About 3.5 percent of Iraq/Afghanistan veterans were wounded, and many of them require regular treatment by VA medical facilities. That's about the same percentage as previous wars.

Better protection, equipment and tactics has kept the death rate down to less than half what it was in past wars, but the VA is discovering that a lot of war injuries take a long time to manifest themselves. For example, the VA had thousands of World War II vets come in with knees and elbows, damaged, and repaired, during the war, that were now giving out. This was not unexpected. Athletes, professional and amateur, commonly have minor sports injuries became major problems later in life. But now, decades after the war injury, there are more new treatments available. Many World War II veterans got replacement knees for joints that were damaged and patched up four decades earlier. Today, Iraq veterans are being told what to expect down the road, and what is being done to deal with coming sight, hearing or mobility problems.

If reconstructive medicine continues to progress, as it has for the last half century, then wounded veterans of the current war will have treatments that can keep up with the long term, but often hidden, damage from combat. Particularly worrying are all those vets who were close when a roadside bomb went off. There are now medical diagnosis tools (MRI and so on) that can detect the early, and generally unfelt, damage. By tracking these "quiet injuries" from the start, the prospects of treating them successfully improve quite a lot. Despite the ragging the VA gets in the mass media, veterans, in surveys, express approval for the job the VA does. Part of this is due to the fact that many VA employees are veterans themselves, or have close family who are.


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