NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


February 13, 2006

For all their horror, wars are learning laboratories for trauma medicine. The knowledge that U.S. military doctors have gained in Iraq is helping them save the lives of more combat wounded than ever before, says the Los Angeles Times.

Quicker medical evacuations, improved emergency room instruments and new surgical approaches mean fewer injured service members are dying.


  • The mortality rate among those wounded in Iraq is about 10 percent, compared with 20 percent in the 1991 Persian Gulf War, 24 percent in Vietnam and 30 percent in World War II, according to a recent issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.
  • The higher survival rate raises other issues, the Journal noted, such as the quality of life for the increased number of troops with multiple amputations and disfiguring wounds; still, doctors are getting better at their profession's essential goal, keeping patients alive.

"The typical gunshot wound you see in an emergency room back home is what we call a 'recreational wound' compared with what we see here, which is the damage caused by high-caliber bullets, rocket-propelled grenades and flying metal shrapnel...," says Army Col. Richard Briggs, a veteran of several wars.

As much as anything, our injured soldiers are benefiting from veteran doctors like Briggs, who have years of practice in trauma surgery and more recent experience in the field. In the United States, doctors might never see wounds like they're treating in Iraq. But at Ibn Sina Hospital in Baghdad's Green Zone, they are routine. Doctors and other members of their surgical teams regularly rehearse and review the procedures because they are under enormous pressure when the injured come in.

Source: Chris Kraul, "Veteran Medics Help Reduce Iraq Fatalities; Doctors with combat zone experience are saving troops who might not have made it anywhere else. Body armor also plays a role," Los Angeles Times, February 12, 2006; and Atul Gawande, "Casualties of War - Military Care for the Wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan," New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 351, No. 24, December 9, 2004.


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