Thursday, July 28, 2005

An army captain who lost a leg in Iraq was among several amputees on Capitol Hill yesterday for the announcement of plans for a state-of-the-art rehabilitation center for severely wounded soldiers.

“Generations of the future will be able to get the best amputee care in the world,” said Capt. Lonnie Moore, 30, praising the public-private partnership that is funding the Center for the Intrepid, which will be built at the Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio.

More than 15,000 troops have been wounded in the current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. As of April, 268 of those were amputees. Forty-one of them had lost two limbs and three were triple amputees, according to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund, a New York-based nonprofit group committing $16 million upfront for the center.

Named after the USS Intrepid — now a sea, air and space museum in New York City — the $30 million center will have the capacity to treat as many as 500 patients and offer innovative prosthetic technology, including first-of-their-kind microprocessor prosthetic knee units.

“It’s going to be a monument of gratitude,” said Bill White, president of the Intrepid fund.

The center also will offer help to children having problems with their parents’ condition, and will include two, 21-room houses funded by the Fisher Foundation for families to use during extended rehabilitation visits.

The Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund raised the initial $16 million through private donations. When the rest of the money is raised and the center is built, the fund said, the center will become publicly funded and run like any other military hospital.

Advanced battlefield medical care has meant survival for soldiers who otherwise would have died from their injuries, which commonly result from rocket-propelled grenades attacks or improvised explosive devices.

The fund says the number of facilities for soldiers who have lost limbs is insufficient.

Capt. Moore, whose vehicle was struck by a rocket-propelled grenade in Iraq, and others, such as Army Staff Sgt. Justin Shellhammer, 26, who lost a leg after stepping on a land mine in Afghanistan, received rehabilitation at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the District.

Walter Reed, which is among the facilities on the Pentagon’s proposed realignment and closure list, has become overcrowded by rising numbers of soldiers who have lost limbs.

Politicians say the number of war amputees exceeds prewar predictions.

“We didn’t anticipate this need,” said Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, who joined Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, Sen. John W. Warner, Virginia Republican, and Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican, in announcing plans for the center yesterday.

Several members of the military’s top brass also were on hand.

“I can’t tell you how important this is to all of our soldiers and their families to know that there are organizations out there trying to take care of our young men and women who sacrifice for our country,” said Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

“It does hit close to home for me,” said the general, whose son, Army Capt. Anthony Odierno, lost his arm after a rocket-propelled grenade attack in Iraq last year.

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