- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 13, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS War veterans who have lost limbs will relearn such tasks as driving a car and rappelling down a cliff at a rehabilitation facility opening today at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

The 31,000-square-foot facility will offer state-of-the art physical therapy and occupational therapy, sports programs, virtual-reality systems and training with prosthetics to help troops regain a range of abilities, said Walter Reed spokeswoman Lori Calvillo.

The Walter Reed hospital, in Northwest, has treated more than 500 veterans who have lost limbs or function of a limb in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The new facility, the Military Advanced Training Center for Soldier Amputees, will be for outpatients — troops who have completed initial rehabilitation for their wounds while at Walter Reed.

“It’s for advanced treatment — not just the person who’s learning to walk again, but the person who wants to run, getting back to whatever they want to be,” Mrs. Calvillo said.

Walter Reed is the flagship hospital of the Army’s system of medical facilities. It has treated 501 of the 681 amputees from the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns who have been treated in Army medical centers, though some received treatment at more than one location over time, the Army said.

Only 47 of those who have lost a limb have remained in the service, officials have said. Most serve as instructors, in desk jobs or other positions that suit their physical abilities.

No soldier who has requested to stay has been rejected, though they must work with assignment managers to find appropriate jobs.

“This is all part of taking care of our soldiers, recognizing that our soldiers have the skills and experience to still serve in the Army,” said Lt. Col. Kevin Arata, a spokesman for the Army’s Human Resources Command. “It is also part of our warrior ethos: Never leave a fallen comrade.”

The Army does not track the number who have returned to the war zone, though several have returned after losing part of a hand or foot.

Among the equipment available at the center is a weapons simulator. “It’s like virtual reality to teach the soldier how to shoot a weapon again. Even if they are not going back into the military, a lot of them are hunters,” Mrs. Calvillo said.

The facility has an automotive-engine repair area where soldiers can work on their fine motor skills and dexterity. It has climbing ropes, a climbing wall and a rappelling wall to work on overhead skills and build confidence.

The center also has treadmills, elliptical trainers, cardiovascular equipment, a running track and equipment to help patients work on their balance, gait and other skills.

A vehicle simulator is available to reteach driving so patients can regain their independence, Mrs. Calvillo said.

The center also has office space for psychologists, social workers, benefits counselors, researchers, physicians and other staff.

Patients previously moved from clinic to clinic within the hospital for outpatient services, but the $10 million center will put the services in one location.

Construction began in November, but the money for it was approved in 2004 — before a national commission decided that Walter Reed will be among military facilities that will be eventually closed in a base realignment. The hospital is slated to be closed in 2011.

Officials said the center was designed so that the equipment can be moved to another location.

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