Ed Timperlake was VA assistant secretary for Public and Intergovernmental Affairs from 1989 to 1992, and served in the U.S. Marine Corps as a fighter pilot and squadron commander.
One of the little-known facts of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq is that the nature of combat wounds has changed dramatically.
For most of human history, the most common combat wound was a piercing injury. Primitive spears, the Roman gladius, medieval lances and bullets all create piercing wounds, and battlefield medicine was largely focused on treating these types of injuries.
As an assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs during the George H. W. Bush administration, I saw up close how VA health care responded to the after-effects of these combat wounds. But in the years since, veteran care reflects an entirely new and complex type of injury.
A study published in the Journal of Trauma and Acute Care Surgery in 2012 noted that between 2005 and 2009 — the early years of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — nearly three in four combat wounds were the result of “explosive mechanisms.” This fact was reflected in the Iranian missile attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq last month, which resulted in 109 troops sustaining varying degrees of head injuries.