Military, Civilians Must Collaborate on Medical Issues

Gen. James Amos, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps

Marine Corps Gen. James Amos, assistant commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, gives the opening address at the Partnership for Military Medicine Symposium in Washington, D.C., Nov. 6. Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Molly A. Burgess

By Ian Graham

Military and civilian medical communities want to find more ways to coordinate efforts so that servicemembers and the public both take advantage of the best that medicine has to offer.

That way, officials say, the innovations made in military medicine can be shared with the civilian population and the wide array of services available outside the Military Health System can be used to help servicemembers.

At the Partnership for Military Medicine Symposium in Washington, D.C., leaders from military and civilian health organizations both government-related and not met to discuss the future of military-civilian collaboration in medicine.

Marine Gen. James Amos, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, said the military has made incredible strides in advancing the treatment of burn victims and amputees. Brook Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, is probably the best burn center in the country, he said.

“I don’t worry that much about a gunshot wound any more – they’ll be fine,” he said. “I don’t worry about below-the-knee amputees – they’ll be fine.”

He said it’s easy to say because he has both of his legs, but he explained that an injury that once meant likely death now only means a prosthesis will be required.

“There are amputees and burn victims that need help still,” he continued, “and there are people still facing traumatic brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, and they need our help.”

He said amputations, burns, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress are the “signature” wounds of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the military needs to seek help in treating those severe injuries.

“There seems to be a reticence in the military to reach out and ask for help from the civilian side,” he said.

But in most cases, he continued, medical practitioners are more than willing to help out. He recalled a doctor who specialized in nerve work and re-attaching extremities, who wasn’t affiliated with the military but simply wanted to help those who serve.

“It’s not about who you voted for, or whether you support the war, or any of that,” Amos said. “It’s about people wanting to do what they can for the young men and women serving their country.”

Dr. W. Craig Vanderwagen, former assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, said interagency planning is key when dealing with issues domestic and international.

“We have a lot of work to do in joint planning,” he said. “We need to be clear about what we’re trying to achieve together, and plan at every level to meet those goals. It takes all of us, a country united, to get it done.”

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