Column: Congressman reviews trip to IraqA few weeks ago, as I landed in Afghanistan during a nine-day visit to the Middle East and Central Asia, I saw Army engineers unloading some important cargo from the plane I’d traveled on: the first Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle to arrive in Afghanistan.
By: Rep. Tim Walz, Worthington Daily Globe
WASHINGTON — A few weeks ago, as I landed in Afghanistan during a nine-day visit to the Middle East and Central Asia, I saw Army engineers unloading some important cargo from the plane I’d traveled on: the first Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicle to arrive in Afghanistan.
Because an ambulance can’t carry heavy armor the same way a Humvee can, injured soldiers in Afghanistan were being transported from the battlefield to the medic’s station in vehicles that were insufficiently protected. The plane I hitched a ride on was carrying new MRAPs that will serve as battlefield ambulances, ensuring that our soldiers get the best care possible, from the very moment they are injured.
The soldiers at Baghram Air Base were clearly excited to finally be getting their hands on these state-of-the-art vehicles that they had been waiting for. What wasn’t so clear to me was why—nearly six and a half years after the war in Afghanistan began—we are just now getting around to providing them with armored vehicles to serve as ambulances.
It occurred to me that the delivery of that MRAP was emblematic of the changes that are taking place within military health care: we have all the resources our injured soldiers need, but unacceptable delays and needless bureaucracy have made the recovery process longer than it should be.
My visit to Afghanistan was part of a longer trip, which also took me to Iraq, Pakistan, Kuwait, and Germany. I traveled with two of my colleagues – a Democrat and Republican, as well as the Surgeon General of the Army, to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the military’s health care system.
I went on this trip because I wanted to know the answer to two simple questions: what happens to a soldier who is injured in Iraq or Afghanistan, from the battlefield to their arrival at Landstuhl Medical Center in Germany? And what can Congress do to help support these brave Americans during their recovery?
And the answers I received were surprising. I learned that one of the best ways to ensure that every soldier and veteran gets timely, high- quality care for their injuries throughout their lives is to streamline the way we handle that soldier’s medical records.
The coordinated effort that can transport a wounded soldier from the battlefield, to the medical station, to Kuwait, and then to Germany in a manner of hours is nothing short of miraculous. I met soldiers in Germany who were already on their way to recovery, just hours after sustaining injuries. But it does these soldiers no good if their doctors in Germany don’t know how they were treated in Iraq, or if they are forced to wait unnecessarily for days or weeks for their medical records to catch up with them.
Transferring medical records from the combat zones in Iraq or Afghanistan to hospitals in Germany and the United States is a complex task that has improved significantly with the use of new technology. But after nine days of studying the health care system up close, it is clear to me that there is still no streamlined system in place to transfer the medical records of a wounded soldier to the doctor who may be treating them at any given moment. For example, in Iraq, I met a doctor who had to use three separate computers and seven different databases just to find one soldier’s medical history! This is more than just a waste of the doctor’s valuable time … it is an unnecessary roadblock in that soldier’s long road to recovery.
Now that I am home from my trip, I am looking forward to the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee addressing this important issue. I am committed to finding a solution to this problem.
When I was in Iraq, I met with a group of soldiers from Minnesota and listened to their stories. These brave soldiers are justly proud of their service to our country. And they know that if — God forbid —they should be injured on the battlefield, their fellow soldiers will stop at nothing to ensure they are evacuated to safety. The least we can do is make sure their medical records are with them every step of the way.