VA and the U.S. military have used the word polytrauma for nearly ten years to describe the complex, combat-related injuries sustained in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. Early in these conflicts we realized we would need to establish new systems of service delivery, new models of care, and even new medical terminology to treat these severely wounded Servicemembers and Veterans. The term polytrauma fit the bill perfectly.
The simplest definition for polytrauma would be a medical condition consisting of many (poly) wounds or injuries (trauma). However, as we all know, managing the many aspects of polytrauma is far from simple. The pervasive use of improvised explosive devices (“IEDs”) and other such weapons in the current conflicts has caused extensive injuries such as: traumatic brain injuries (TBIs), amputations, burns, spinal cord injuries, complicated fractures, extensive organ damage, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other ailments – many of which often occur at the same time. Individually, any one of these conditions can present Servicemembers and Veterans with a steep climb to recovery. When a complex injury or exposure results in two or more of these conditions, then the climb is that much more challenging and often the effects can be life altering.
VA has answered the challenges for more than 50,000 Servicemembers and Veterans since 2003 by establishing a system of integrated, interdisciplinary treatment, designed to get those individuals with complex injuries and associated functional problems back to living. Teams of skilled therapists and mental health counselors, specialty-trained physicians and nurses, and dedicated case managers all work collaboratively to focus VA’s top talents on these most challenging cases. Each case is unique, and the treatment and recovery of each individual is distinctive. The one constant across all of these patients is the extraordinary courage, determination, and spirit that these injured Veterans, Servicemembers, their families and caregivers demonstrate while facing the daunting realities of their condition.
The recovery process to achieve a new level of “normal” requires a determined Veteran or Servicemember, backed by a strong supportive network, and guided by a committed team of highly skilled rehabilitation specialists. The recovery of every patient has its advancements and setbacks, joys and challenges, and the road to wellness can be long and sometimes winding. Yet, our experience with every patient advances our medical knowledge, allows us to continuously improve our care delivery and rehabilitation programs, and helps to pave the road for all who are recovering from polytrauma.
If you want to know more about how VA is treating our wounded warriors and injured Veterans and Servicemembers, or if you simply wish to feel encouraged by seeing the incredible recovery stories of some who gave so much in defense of our Nation, please visit our website, www.polytrauma.va.gov. While you are there, please take the time to watch our short documentary on some of America’s Heroes who let us follow their journey of recovery.
Our website is dedicated to sharing information and lessons learned from those who best know the Polytrauma/TBI community: the patients, spouses, family, caregivers, and medical professionals that live, work, and interact in this environment every day. They will share their lessons learned, their observations, and provide information on new programs, benefits, or support networks. While we focus on the five VA Polytrauma Rehabilitation Centers established to care for the most severely wounded, VA has over 100 sites across its Polytrauma/TBI System of Care waiting to help you with your rehabilitation health care needs.
Lucille B. Beck, Ph.D. is the Chief Consultant, Rehabilitation Services and the Director of the Audiology and Speech Pathology Program in Veterans Health Administration for the Department of Veterans Affairs.