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Increased Research of Combat-Related Amputation in Women: Why it’s Critical & Why it Matters

Jul 1, 2020 |

Shared from inMotion  |  Volume 30, Issue 4  |  July/August 2020, Page 36

By Carol Blymire

Today, women make up 20 percent of the Air Force, 19 percent of the Navy, 15 percent of the Army, and nearly 10 percent of the Marine Corps, according to the Department of Defense. And, women continue to increase their ranks in combat positions, thanks to a policy change in 2015 when then Department of Defense Secretary Ashton Carter announced the Pentagon had opened all combat jobs to women.

“There will be no exceptions.” Secretary Carter said at a news conference. He added, “They’ll be allowed to drive tanks, fire mortars, and lead infantry soldiers into combat. They’ll be able to serve as Army Rangers and Green Berets, Navy SEALs, Marine Corps infantry, Air Force parajumpers and everything else that was previously open only to men.”

This change, allowing women into all combat roles, means that more women will be at risk for combat-related amputation. Women now make up approximately 10 percent of the current veteran population, and are the fastest-growing veteran demographic.

With more women stepping up to serve their country in combat roles, it is more important now than ever to increase research around combat-related amputation for women.

National legislative director of Disabled American Veterans Joy Ilem said in an interview with that, “It’s critical to remember that women aren’t just small men. Women’s body proportions and hormonal makeup are different.”

“As we learn more through VA research about the impact of military service on the physical and mental health of women veterans and their specific needs, continued adjustments in federal programs and policies will be needed to address the gaps,” she added. These women need VA to be prepared for them not just today, but for future generations of women veterans.”

The need to study the impact of limb loss in women is something the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs knows is important.

“There is a historic number of women serving in combat-related positions in our armed services and, with that, an increase in the number of women who’ve experienced combat-related trauma including limb loss,” said Dr. Billie Randolph, Deputy Director of the Extremity Trauma and Amputation Center of Excellence at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

Randolph, who also serves on the Amputee Coalition Scientific and Medical Affairs Committee added, “Still, women are studied far less than men are when it comes to prosthetic and amputation research. We need a greater focus on the medical needs of women post-combat so that physicians can make informed decisions about their female patients’ health care needs.”

There are a number of VA-funded studies already underway. Some look at the physical, psychological, and social impact of amputation on women, while others investigate prosthetic uses and develop best practices. It’s a step in the right direction, and we know more research is needed.

As our armed services evolve and women take on more front‑line roles and responsibilities, we must make sure we are addressing the health and well‑being of women with combat-related amputations when they come back home.