Of the more than 50,000 American troops wounded in action in Iraq and Afghanistan, 2.6 percent have suffered a major limb amputation, the majority due to an improvised explosive device.
The Congressional Budget Office report, released Wednesday, found that this amputation rate was higher than for those who served in Vietnam for several reasons, including new blood-clotting technology that prevents death because of a serious injury and new body armor that protects vital organs but does not shield arms or legs from bullets.
“Whereas bullets striking the chest or abdomen were more likely to have been fatal during earlier conflicts, those impacts are much more survivable to current soldiers who wear modern body armor,” the paper said. “The arms and legs are not protected by body armor, so a larger percentage of surviving soldiers now have to contend with the loss of [a] limb.”
Of the more than 1,000 major amputations in the two conflicts, more than two-thirds have come from improvised explosive device attacks.
The report found that 1,800 American service members have died in Afghanistan through last month as part of Operation Enduring Freedom and about 20,000 have been wounded. The war began more than a decade ago in Oct. 2001 as a direct response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
While American troops’ official conflict mission in Afghanistan will end this month, the president plans to leave about 10,000 residual troops behind to continue training Afghan military forces, who will be responsible for security in the region and ensure gains in the region are not lost.
The report also found that 3,482 service members died in Iraq and another 31,947 were wounded.
Some have speculated that the VA could become overwhelmed caring for service members who previously would not have survived their injuries, but the CBO report found that the survival rate in Iraq is not that different than it was for those who served in the Vietnam War. The survival rate in Iraq is 90.4 percent, while in Vietnam it was 86.5 percent.
“The improvement in survival, although impressive, has been exaggerated in the literature,” Matthew Goldberg wrote in the CBO report.