Tag Archives: US military

Modernize U.S. military medical training to save lives and money

By Doris Browne, M.D., M.P.H.

Nearly 100 Republicans and Democrats have come together in support of an important bill โ€” Rep. Hank Johnson’s (D-Ga.) Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training (BEST) Practices Act (H.R. 1243).

If enacted, this bill would help doctors, medics and others save the lives of injured military service members by replacing ineffective and expensive trauma-training drills on animals with superior and less costly human simulation models.

I am a service-disabled veteran who spent nearly 28 years as a physician in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, and I currently serve as president-elect of the National Medical Association. I support this effort to modernize military medical training.

Many military medical personnel currently receive Cold War-era training that involves inflicting traumatic injuries on pigs and goats to learn how to repair injuries in humans. Some animals have very different anatomies from humans, which can inhibit successful translation of medical skills across species.

For instance, goats have 13 sets of ribs as opposed to 12 sets in human beings. Compared with humans, goats and pigs have smaller torsos, thicker skin and major differences in internal organs. Goats have a four-chamber stomach compared to the human one-chamber stomach, making goats poor models for teaching human abdominal procedures. Placing an epidural needle in pigs is different from doing this procedure on humans, as the respective spinal cords for pigs and humans end in different vertebral sections, and incorrect placement in humans could cause severe nerve damage.

Goats’ veins and arteries sit on top of the muscle and are easy to visualize, grab and clamp to stop a hemorrhaging wound. Human veins and arteries run through the muscle, and when damaged, they contract, making them difficult to grab and clamp to stop a hemorrhage.

Also, the pressure required to properly apply a tourniquet on a human’s limb is significantly different from that needed to apply one to a small goat’s limb. Failing to learn how to properly stop hemorrhaging wounds can have potential life-or-death consequences.

A recent study found that nearly a quarter of combat deaths from 2001 through 2011 were potentially survivable, and in 90 percent of these cases, avoidable deaths were due to massive blood loss.

Military medics shouldn’t be burdened with translating skills learned on an anatomically foreign, sedated goat or pig to a bleeding and screaming comrade on a chaotic battlefield.

A better training method would use anatomically correct, advanced human simulators that can breathe, bleed and even die just like real people.

The BEST Practices Act would help the military make the transition to using superior human simulation technology in place of animals for trauma training.

A recent Army study found that the agency could even save millions of taxpayer dollars with this transition.

Last month, the U.S. Coast Guard announced that it had suspended all animal use for trauma training. This policy shift will allow medical personnel to master emergency skills on realistic human anatomy, improve providers’ skill confidence and save the agency money.

The Department of Defense should follow suit by giving its medical personnel the human-simulation training tools they need to better save lives and permanently banning inferior, animal-based trauma-training methods.

Doris Browne, M.D., M.P.H., is a retired colonel who served nearly 28 years as a physician in the U.S. Army Medical Corps and is the president-elect of the National Medical Association, the largest and oldest national organization representing the interests of more than 30,000 African-American physicians and the patients they serve.

The military abuse video you haven’t heard about

By Lindsay Pollard-Post

Americans and Afghans alike are rightly outraged over a video circulating on the Internet that allegedly shows U.S. Marines urinating on Taliban corpses. Pentagon officials are scrambling to do damage control, fearing that the video will hinder peace talks, and military officials are promising that those involved will be punished to the highest extent. But another video that surfaced recently also merits outrage and action: It shows a soldier viciously beating a sheep with a baseball bat while other soldiers laugh and cheer.

Blow after metallic, stomach-churning blow rains down on the terrified sheep’s skull. The convulsing and kicking animal tries in vain to rise and flee, but the man with the bat just keeps swinging. A local boy in the background jumps up and down in apparent delight while the sheep struggles on the ground. Despite a letter and phone calls from PETA to high-ranking Army officials, no action has been taken on this case after more than a month.

Animals don’t start wars. They don’t have political views, militaries or weapons. Yet they are often the victims of cruelty in combat zones. In 2008, video surfaced of a smiling Marine who hurled a live puppy off a cliff while another Marine laughed. Thankfully, after a massive public outcry and pressure from PETA, the puppy-tossing Marine was expelled, and another Marine in the video faced disciplinary action.

The same year, video that was allegedly taken from a CD found in Baghdad’s Green Zone depicts what appear to be U.S. soldiers taunting and tormenting a dog whose back legs were apparently crippled. The laughing men threw rocks at the dog, who snarled and yelped in pain before making a desperate attempt to flee on two legs. One of the men in the video said the dog’s attempt to run was “the funniest thing I’ve ever seen in my life.” Many other similar incidents of abuse have been recorded on video, and many more likely never see the light of day.

Whether the abuser is a military service member or a regular Joe, cruelty to animals isn’t “normal” behavior, and it must be taken seriously, for everyone’s safety. People who find pleasure or humor in harming animals aren’t just cruel; they’re also cowards because they target “easy victims” who don’t have any hope of fighting back.

Mental-health and law-enforcement professionals know that animal abusers’ disregard for life and indifference to suffering indicate a dangerous psychopathy that does not confine itself to animal victims. A history of cruelty to animals regularly shows up in the FBI records of serial rapists and murderers, and a study by Northeastern University and the Massachusetts SPCA found that people who abuse animals are five times more likely to commit violent crimes against humans. Violence is a fact of war, but the depravity shown by the sheep-beating soldier and the sick pleasure the onlookers seemed to derive from watching the beating are red flags.

All the students who have opened fire on their classmates have histories of cruelty to animals. “BTK” killer Dennis Rader, who was convicted of killing 10 people, admitted that he was cruel to animals as a child and apparently practiced strangling dogs and cats before moving on to human victims. Serial killer and cannibal Jeffrey Dahmer tortured animals and impaled cats’ and dogs’ heads on sticks. The Boston Strangler, Albert DeSalvo, used arrows to shoot cats and dogs who were trapped inside crates.

Whether it occurs at home or in a war zone, there is never an excuse for harming animals. The stakes of cruelty to animals are far too high to ignore it, to excuse it or to let those who commit it go unpunished. It’s time for the military to treat acts of cruelty to animals with the seriousness that they deserve.