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American Voices: A combat doctor on caring for our returning veterans

This week, in our American Voices segment, we turn to Dr. Todd Baker. He served as chief of the emergency room of the 86th Combat Support Hospital in Iraq, and has now written a book: “Baghdad ER: 15 minutes.” Dr. Baker offers his perspective about what needs to be done to care for our returning veterans.

TODD BAKER: When we arrived in Baghdad, our first day literally six hours after we stepped foot there in the hospital the traumas were coming in and the first patient that they laid on the bed in front of us was a 19 year old American female soldier. She had both of her arms missing at the elbows and burns all over her face.

Routinely, we would see soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors that would come in with amputations of one, two or even three extremities–usually from the roadside bombs. And these guys would come in and they would have lost 60 to 70 percent of their blood volume.  But, with the advances in medical care and trauma care overseas, we’re seeing a lot higher percentage of wounded come home from those who have been attacked–and so that’s a great thing–but also we’ve got tens of thousands of wounded troops that are back here in the US who need our support.

I think the most important thing that we can do for our veterans coming home from war is to listen to them. These guys have stories that are amazing. None of us know what it’s like to think okay my next step could be the landmine or, you know, the next curve we go around in the Humvee could be it. And no we don’t understand it, we never can understand it because we haven’t walked a step in their shoes much less a mile. But, just to listen to them and at least say hey this person has been through a lot more that I could ever fathom going through myself and so I need to cut ‘em a break here.

We need to have more bridge programs for our troops coming back from the Middle East and other areas in the world to help them acclimate and get into our society here in the US. A lot of the experiences that our soldiers, marines, airmen, sailors have really does fit the civilian world–be it from computers to engineering and to of course medicine. We can take that experience into account and say okay we’ll give you probation for a period of time or another program or entity to try to help these guys and girls bridge that gap.

These guys have given us their all. Their families have put everything, put their lives on hold, they’ve put their sleep on hold when they’re worried about their husbands or wives overseas, and we owe it to them to do the same.