Spinal Cord Injury in the U.S. Armed Forces
The U.S. Armed Forces have continued to see a rise in Spinal Cord Injuries sustained in combat over recent years.
Enlisted personnel and veterans in all branches of the military are found to be significant independent risk factors for SCI, attributing to 12% of all Spinal Cord Injuries seen country wide. According to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs, “SCIs are estimated to affect between 249,000 and 363,000 Americans, with roughly 42,000 of those being Veterans.”
Why the Military?
The large number of SCI’s in the military, the highest ever recorded, can be largely attributed to the increased use of sniper attacks, ambush, and roadside bombs used by enemy forces starting in the Global War on Terror era.
The recent reliance on high-energy improvised explosive device (IED) blast mechanisms has increased soldiers' exposure to blunt trauma, explaining the rise in reported spine fractures. In fact, a recent study showed that explosive mechanisms accounted for over half of all spine injuries, with the remainder caused by motor vehicle collisions (29%), and gunshot wounds (15%). Another study finds that reported spine fractures accounted for over 80% of all spinal wounds.
Experiencing this kind of severe blunt trauma is an occupational hazard of conditions in a combat zone and is not what a civilian would experience on a day-to-day basis. According to a research study by A.J. Schoenfeld, “The raw incidence for SCI within the military was 429 per million compared to most large series throughout the world where the incidence of SCI has been reported in the range of 12–68 per million.”
How can we help Veterans with SCI?
The continued rise in SCI’s within the military is not a matter that can be ignored.
In a study conducted by Remi Kessler, et al., they found that military personnel who reported having a spinal cord injury were found wearing protective headgear but were not wearing body armor. This suggests that improvements in protective equipment for active military members needs to be made to help prevent these kinds of life-altering injuries.
The VA is the leading effort in spearheading change and care for military veterans with SCI’s. In fact, they are the largest health care system in the world providing life-long SCI treatment, caring for more than 27,000 veterans each year. The VA has funded multiple research efforts, including neural engineering, regenerative medicine, and adaptive technologies to improve the lives of those suffering from a SCI, including our very own Habit Camera.
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