Benefits of War: Medical Advances

Benefits of War: Medical Advances

As we celebrate Memorial Day this year and humbly remember and consider the women and men who have died serving our country, I wanted to share some benefits that war brings and the on-going research that the military and their partners are exploring. I am not advocating that war was worth these advances, but because there was a war we were able to make these medical advancements. The research that the military does to protect our soldiers is frequently also shared with the civilian sector. Take a second to think about the medics who are in the field, doing the immediate medical triage of injuries. They do not hesitate to risk their lives each time they go to their buddies in the war zone.  Both my parents are critical care nurses, in the military, at war, and in the civilian sector. It is hard for those not in this noble profession to even begin to comprehend what they go through. Please express gratitude to any medical professional, at any level of expertise.

“If war is the dark side of humanity, then military medicine is the light.” – Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Dr. Jonathan Woodson

Wars ranked by U.S. combat deaths

From Wikipedia, here are the times the US was at war and the number of deaths from them.

Rank War Years Deaths
1 World War II 1941–1945 291,557
2 American Civil War 1861–1865 212,938
3 World War I 1917–1918 53,402
4 Vietnam War 1955–1975 47,424
5 Korean War 1950–1953 33,746
6 American Revolutionary War 1775–1783 8,000
7 War on Terror 2001–present 5,281 [92]
8 War of 1812 1812–1815 2,260
9 Mexican–American War 1846–1848 1,733
10 Northwest Indian War 1785–1795 1,221+
11 Kosovo 1999-2014 18+

Over 650,000 people have died in combat since 1775, in the American Revolutionary War. As devastating as war is, these soldiers did not die in vain.

Scientific Advancements by War

Civil War

Used by the U.S. military since the Civil War, tourniquets play an important part in constricting the flow of traumatic bleeding. According to an Army Medical Command fact sheet, nearly 50% of combat deaths since World War II can be attributed to blood loss. []

Closing chest wounds that prevents lungs from collapsing was realized by Dr. Benjamin Howard. He found that if he closed the wound with metal sutures, followed by alternating layers of lint or linen bandages and a few drops of collodion (a syrupy solution that forms an adhesive film when it dries), he could create an airtight seal. Survival rates quadrupled, and Howard’s innovation soon became standard treatment.

Plastic Surgery. In 1862, a surgeon from City Hospital in New York, Dr. Gurdon Buck used dental and facial fixtures to fill in the missing bone a soldier’s face  could regain its shape. He also pioneered the use of tiny sutures to minimize scarring.

A British ambulance collects the wounded at Sevastopol during the Crimean War, circa 1855.

Ambulances. It took Jonathan Letterman, the medical director of the Army of the Potomac, just six weeks to implement a brilliant system to evacuate and care for the wounded, becoming the model for the ambulance-to-ER system we know today. On September 17, 1862, the Battle of Antietam left 2,108 Union soldiers dead and nearly 10,000 wounded. Letterman established caravans of 50 ambulances, each with a driver and two stretcher bearers, to ferry the injured to field hospitals. []

Crimean War

Modern infection control borrows much from the work of Florence Nightingale during the Crimean War in the mid 19th century. She ensured hospital wards were cleaned and ventilated leading to a dramatic drop in mortality rates.


In the First World War measures to prevent the spread of infectious diseases, including mobilelaboratoriestetanus antitoxin and vaccination against typhoid, limited the effect of disease.

French doctors first formalised the system of triage to treat mass casualties. Patients were split into three categories to allow prioritisation. Those who were most likely to benefit from treatment were selected ahead of those likely to live and those likely to die regardless.


During the Second World War developments were made in drugs such as penicillin and medical specialties focused on plastic surgery, rehabilitation and tropical diseases such as malaria. [Science Museum.Org]

Hand-held sonograms. Actually produced during World War Two to detect cracks in armour, they’re now used by medical professionals to check on pregnant women and scan for cancers! []

Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom

Combat Application Tourniquet is a one-handed tourniquet, which allowed soldiers to apply pressure to bleeds without assistance. In 2005 it was one of the Army’s 10 greatest inventions and since incorporated into civilian trauma care.

Oregon Medical Laser Center developed the chitosan bandage, which helps reduce hemorrhaging by combining a biodegradable carbohydrate found in the shells of shrimp and lobsters with blood cells.

A new, advanced mind controlled robotic arm from DEKA, given the Star Wars inspired name Luke (after Luke Skywalker), received approval by the FDA on May 9, so now it can be sold in the United States. The prosthetic arm will allow amputees to perform delicate tasks and movements like manipulating keys, holding a grape, cleaning, cooking, and much more.

Robotic Prosthetic Arm Controlled by the Mind Approved by the FDA Read more at
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Armed Forces Institute of Regenerative Medicine (AFIRM) is a multi-institutional, interdisciplinary network working to develop advanced treatment options for our severely wounded servicemen and women.

Burn Treatments. Improvements in the study of burn treatments have also been advanced during the war. One technique is for replacing burned skin with new-grown skin, said Dr. David Baer, director of research at the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research. I actually got to learn about this at an internal conference at work this year!  Military medical research also has shown that a burn patient’s fluid balance is delicate and must be managed in a prescribed manner, particularly during the first few days following the burn incident, Baer said. A computer program that can be used in the field has been devised to accurately measure a patient’s fluid intake, he added.Treatments for burn-caused scarring and other traumatic injuries have advanced, too, the physicians said. They now are researching how scars are formed, and how the scarring process can be slowed and even remodeled. []

US Army Medical Research & Materiel Command

Learn more about the US Army Medical Research & Materiel Command where some of this medical research takes place including collaborations with the private and academic sectors. I had an opportunity to listen to several presentations recently from doctors and nurses who develop some of the newest life saving procedures for the military and civilians. They are focused on leveraging technology in the areas that make the most impact, while taking into consideration the continued human aspect.

Please take this into consideration when you your legislative leaders want to reduce funding for military and medical research. The research efforts this group are working on are important, not only in critical times of war, but also in every day lives.

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