From gushing wounds to chronic pain to finding a better way to get deserved benefits, those caring for injured service members in Augusta are finding better ways to get it done.
Researchers and clinicians gathered Monday at the Charlie Norwood VA Medical Center for the First Augusta Research Symposium on Advances in Warrior Care. Some of the more perplexing problems those caring for the wounded face now might be solved with newer approaches.
During the battle of Fallujah in Iraq, for instance, Commander Richard Jadick remembers losing a soldier to a massive groin wound that bled out, only to be faced with another similar wound that he then packed as tightly as he could with bandages and the soldier survived.
The sergeant who died “showed me how to treat that wound,” Jadick told the conference. These kinds of wounds can present a problem when the vessel that is severed is too deep to reach but researchers at Georgia Health Sciences University might have found a solution, said Dr. Richard Schwartz, the director of the Center of Operational Medicine at GHSU. Called the Abdominal Aortic Tourniquet, it looks like a large blood pressure cuff that goes around the abdomen and when inflated constricts blood flow from the aorta to the injured areas below. The device has received pre-market approval from the Food and Drug Administration and will soon be commercially available, Schwartz said.
When the wounded were surveyed, “pain was their No. 1 issue,” said Col. Christopher M. Castle, the commander of Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center. “They just weren’t getting the kind of management of the pain that they expected.”
In fact, 14 percent of service members have received a prescription for an opioid pain reliever that is potentially addictive, he said. Instead, Eisenhower and others across the country are creating a “Fortitude Center” that will take an integrative and interdisciplinary approach to pain management, along with neurorehab for traumatic brain injuries and residential treatment for addictions, Castle said. It seeks to get at the root causes of pain and offer alternatives for some, such as acupuncture or yoga or physical therapy, he said.
It is a “whole-soldier approach to this constellation of injuries that have common causes and potentially different remedies that come out of that collaborative approach,” Castle said.
With 50,000 troops in Iraq that could be home by the end of the year, it will have “an immediate impact” on the VA, said U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., a member of the Senate Committee on Veterans’ Affairs. While some budget-cutters have suggested cutting benefits, he is not among them.
“For any veteran who has served or is serving, and volunteered and was promised these benefits, they deserve to get them,” Isakson said. There needs to be a better transition from active duty to VA coverage, one he sees in Augusta.
“Augusta is really the breakthrough facility,” Isakson said, between Eisenhower and the VA. “With them both in the same town, there is no excuse for soldiers (leaving the service) at Fort Gordon falling through the cracks and not getting the service they need here.”