More amputations in 2011, but better treatment
The military made strides in Iraq and Afghanistan during 2011, but new statistics from the Pentagon show that it came at a steep cost. There were more amputations last year than at any time during the post-911 fighting, Stars and Stripes reports.
There were 240 cases of at least one arm or leg amputation on a soldier, a significant increase over the 196 troops who suffered similar injuries in 2010. The number is even higher than the 205 in 2007, which was a reflection of the Iraq surge. The Marine Corps experienced the heaviest loss of limb - with 129 soldiers requiring amputations. The Army had 100.
Analysts credit the jump in amputations to two factors. The first, they say, is the increased troop levels in Afghanistan. Additionally, there were more soldiers on foot patrol in insurgent strongholds in 2011, the publication reports.
While the data may seem disheartening, there is a silver lining. Though amputations have increased, the number of troop deaths have dropped. In 2010, 437 soldiers lost their lives but that number dropped to 368 last year. There may be a spike in serious injuries, but experts believe it could be a reflection of the fact that soldiers are surviving wounds that may have previously proved fatal.
"These are grievous injuries, yes, but when you see them back here with their families having survived, these guys are all grateful to be alive," Col. Jonathan Jaffin, the chief of the Army Surgeon General’s Dismounted Complex Blast Injury Task Force, told Stars and Stripes.
Soldiers who have had a limb amputated also have better technology available to them once they return stateside for recovery. In fact, recent advancements have made it possible for amputees to return to the battlefield, the American Forces Press Service reports.
Before 2004, most amputations above the knee resulted in a medical retirement from service. However, since then the Department of Defense partnered with a contractor to develop a prosthetic knee that made it possible to return to active duty.
"We're not trying to force soldiers, Marines or sailors to go back on active duty after an amputation," David Laufer, chief of orthotics and prosthetics services at the DoD, told the news agency. "We want to give them the opportunity to stay on active duty, and not be limited by their prostheses."