The wars in Iraqa and Afghanistan have dragged on for over a decade now. Since 2001, the U.S. has sent more than 2.2 million troops to battle, more than 6,600 were killed, and 50,000 were injured. This is a dismal reality of war.
However, the strides that have been made in medicine as a result of the war are astounding. The signature wounds of both conflicts, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury (TBI), have led the Department of Defense to apportion hundreds of millions of dollars for research studies and treatment.
In the past six years, the Department of Defense has invested a minimum of $2.7 billion in understanding psychological and neurological injuries. $700 million has been apportioned for TBI research which has included an effort to develop a portable diagnostic tool for TBIs. Additional funding has gone towards researching combat wounds that failed to heal, partly attributable to unique bacteria present in Afghanistan.
The VA has its own set of priorities when it comes to researching. The VA is currently faced with rehabilitating veterans who have suffered complex wounds and are considered “polytrauma”, those who have sustained injuries to more than one organ system, or have severe brain injuries, or are amputees, or were severely burned. VA has worked on improving how it coordinates care to this group of veterans. It’s also worked on developing hearing and vision implants as well as robotic prosthetic devices. It even has pioneered its own TBI program which explores different treatment modalities like personalized medicine and nerve regeneration.
There are challenges in coordinating massive research programs and implementing them for our troops and veterans. A January 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office found that the Department of Defense’s mental health and TBI research needed better quality control mechanisms to report financial data. However, despite these limitations, some of the world’s best researchers and massive amounts of money are being utilized in an attempt to assist our nation’s troops and veterans.