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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

Update on Wounded from War in Iraq

Aired March 24, 2003 - 11:46   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Back to Germany now, as we get underway with that briefing.
(JOINED IN PROGRESS)

COL. DAVID RUBENSTEIN: ... before we begin, I'd like to ask us all to remember that soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and civilians are in harm's way as we meet here today at Landstuhl.

Of course, our heartfelt condolences go out to the family members and other loved ones of those service members who have given their life on the battlefield in and around Iraq, and we think about the casualties that have been generated, those who have come here and those who have yet to come here from those military operations.

On behalf of an absolutely outstanding medical staff, nursing staff and support staff in Landstuhl, I'd like to let you all know that the quality of care, the readiness to provide quality care to our patients is absolutely the highest order. We have a staff made up of soldiers, sailors, airmen, of civilians and the Department of Veterans Affairs who are well-prepared and absolutely ready to provide quality health care.

They work every day to meet their mission statement. The mission for Landstuhl is to serve as America's beacon of health care for its sons and daughters abroad, and we take that mission very, very seriously indeed.

On the 19th of October, 2001, the first two patients, first two casualties generated from Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan arrived here at Landstuhl. Since that time, almost 2,000 patients have come here from operations in and around Afghanistan, operations in and around Iraq, and the preparation and buildup in Kuwait and the area around Kuwait during that time.

In all instances, the care is absolutely top notch in this fully accredited facility, and the patients are well cared for, returned to duty or evacuated to home stations in the United States or here in Europe.

We prepare every day for what we have been doing the last 24 hours, the last year and several months, and what we will be doing in the future.

Today, 12 patients arrived from Operation Iraqi Freedom. Those 12 patients consisted of eight combat injuries and four noncombat injuries. We had six Marines and two soldiers who are counted among the combat-related injuries. And I'll let Dr. Chun (ph) and others take care of the specifics there.

We are pleased to have you here today. We're pleased to be able to take care of America's finest and those of our allied forces should they come this way as well.

And now we'll open it up to your questions.

QUESTION: Can you tell us anything about the type of environment they were in, what kind of combat they were actually in, what kind of injuries you're actually looking at?

RUBENSTEIN: I don't believe we can. I'll ask Major Chun (ph).

MAJOR CHUN (ph): I can answer the type of injuries that we're getting. Type of those combat injuries are mostly from blast injuries.

QUESTION: You cannot give any specifics of was it in battle, was it a blast that happened...

CHUN (ph): I cannot give you that detail. RUBENSTEIN: We can tell you that eight of those casualties are combat casualties and that they received blast injuries as a result of combat operations.

Quite honestly, we're concerned with taking care of the patient and the series of injuries that the patient presents with. If during the course of their stay here they talk to us about what they were doing at the time, that's a conversation we'll have. But first and foremost, these patients who have been here for just a few hours we're taking care of first.

QUESTION: Can you track the combat injury group for us in terms of the levels of care that they've received prior to coming to Landstuhl?

RUBENSTEIN: Sure. When a service member, whether that's a soldier, sailor, airman, Marines, or more and more often on the battlefield a civilian is injured, they first receive level 1 (ph) care, which is defined as care provided by fellow soldiers or by combat medics.

They're then evacuated to what is called a battalion aid station, where we'll find two physicians and about 30 medics. And at the battalion aid station they'll receive initial life-saving care. That's level 1 (ph) care.

They will then be evacuated to level 2 (ph) care, which we categorize as more intense care. We now have eight physicians, and we start including surgeons at the level 2 (ph) facility.

From there, they would be evacuated to a combat support hospital or a mobile army surgical hospital or a field hospital, where we have more definitive care. The specialization of the surgeons is more acute and their ability to further stabilize the patient is more pronounced. That takes you from level 1 (ph) to level 3 (ph), and that's what you find on the battlefield or immediately behind the battlefield. Landstuhl is a level 4 (ph) facility. And we would receive the patient. We would treat them, stabilize them and prepare them for evacuation to their next facility or to return them to duty.

RUBENSTEIN: A level 5 (ph) facility is considered rehabilitation, rehabilitative care.

Yes, please?

QUESTION: Can you say how severe are the injuries and how long the patients are going to stay here in Landstuhl?

RUBENSTEIN: OK.

STAFF: We have, of those battle injuries, two are currently in ICU, intensive care unit, and six are in medical-surgical ward. Of those six, actually, only four of them are combat casualties. And out of those two intensive care unit, they're in stable condition and we're fully expecting them to recover. And they may have some long rehab process to go on, but they'll be stabilized here and we'll transfer them back to United States as necessary.

QUESTION: Can you comment on -- you talked about those different levels of care -- how much confidence is there in that level 1 (ph), that battlefield, the medic or the (OFF-MIKE) that comes into practice? And in what condition do these soldiers come to you in? Is the level of care sufficient enough that when they get to you they're in relatively good shape?

RUBENSTEIN: I'll answer the first part, and I'll ask the staff here, who takes care of the patients, answer the second part.

About two years ago, Lieutenant General Jim Peak (ph), who was the surgeon general of the United States Army, instituted -- and I can only speak about the Army, not the Navy or Air Force -- instituted a program to dramatically increase the quality of training that our medics receive. Our combat medics are now EMT-qualified, national registered. They receive pre-hospital trauma training and additional training.

The quality of medic on the battlefield is much improved over the previous combat medics who were very, very good in their own generations. The patients are well cared for.

Once a casualty on the battlefield reaches a combat support hospital, they're likelihood of surviving is very great. The issue has always been to get them to that combat support hospital or field hospital alive.

Our current day combat medic, under what we call the 91 Whiskey (ph) Program, which is their identifier, the current combat medic is very capable of getting that soldier to a proper combat support hospital alive.

As far as the condition of the patients when they get here, I'll defer to the medical and nursing staff.

STAFF: It seems as if the quality of care is very good. I don't have much information or specific information from the patients about the level 1 (ph) care. But patients come to us very much stabilized, very much in good condition, from my experience.

STAFF: And in certain cases they actually receive definitive care, down-range location or in the area of operation. And when they get here, it makes our job easier to take care of them and rehab them. So the quality of medical treatment that they receive in the combat area is superb.

STAFF: I basically say the same thing, that the patients received excellent care before they came to us. And we've just basically made them comfortable and we're able to let them contact home.

QUESTION: Two questions. First question, this morning at Ramstein we saw one patient come in who was put in an ambulance. I suppose he's the most serious condition. Can you tell about his condition?

STAFF: He is one of the two patients that are in ICU. And he is on ventilator support. But I cannot discuss any further specific on each individual patient.

QUESTION: And the second question was, going back to the levels of care, there's the boat...

RUBENSTEIN: The USNS Comfort.

QUESTION: Right. Thanks. What role does that play in these levels of care?

RUBENSTEIN: The USNS Comfort is a level 3 (ph) facility. They'll receive and stabilize patients and then evacuate them to the receiving hospitals, to Landstuhl.

QUESTION: I have two questions for you. Can you talk about what caused the blast injuries? Are you talking about artillery, grenades, what sort of weapon it was?

QUESTION: And the second question is, do you know what units these personnel are from?

STAFF: I do not have specific information as to which unit they belong to. I can tell you, only Army and Marine, Air Force breakdown.

As far as what type of blast injuries, there are so many different blast injuries, the combat injuries. We know some are caused by rocket-propelled grenade blast injuries, but there are various other types. And again, I can't really specify all the detail at this point.

QUESTION: This is not a question specifically about the injuries that come in, but we've seen a lot about these so-called devil-docs (ph), the Marine doctors treating people in the field, also treating Iraqi soldiers in the field. Is it likely that in sometime in the future we might see Iraqi soldiers or civilians being flown here to Landstuhl for treatment?

And secondly, obviously, weapons of mass destruction are still very much on people's lips. How capable are you of treating people here who are affected the use of weapons of mass destruction?

RUBENSTEIN: I'll let the staff talk to the specifics. I'll tell you in general terms, we're going to take care of any patient that comes off an aircraft and is delivered to us. And so whether that is an American soldier or an allied soldier, a part of the coalition, whether that's an Iraqi or an American, we're going to provide quality health care irrespective of the uniform.

And we'll let the staff address that further. Would you like to touch that?

STAFF: We've been highly trained for any kind of weapons for mass casualties. And any kind of biological, chemical, we know what we're going to be doing. We just hope we don't have to use it.

STAFF: And I couldn't say anything further than what Colonel Rubenstein said. Our job is not to judge the patients as they come. Our job is to just take care of them, and so that's what we'll continue to do.

QUESTION: Can you say if any more planes with wounded soldiers are on the way to Landstuhl today, tomorrow or this week? The second one, are there any female soldiers among the wounded which came in this morning? STAFF: Amongst this morning's casualties, we did not have any female soldiers at this time.

And as for future casualties, I believe the FPA officer already has announced that we are expecting another flight within the next 24 hours.

QUESTION: Can the staff talk about the mood among these soldiers a bit? And are their spirits -- are they eager to go back to the field, do they want to go home, have they expressed that they want to talk to their families? Have you allowed them to talk to their families? What is the general mood in (OFF-MIKE)?

STAFF: Well, the patient I have taken care of, his moods are extremely high. And his basic concern was being able to call home and talk to his family. We are in the process of trying to get him in touch with his family.

But I believe the lieutenant has been able to talk to some of her patients' families.

STAFF: The patient that I cared for today, his first priority was really to reach his parents. And so that's typically what we'll do, is once we settle the patient in, put a call through to their family. And I was able to place a call to the soldier's parents and connect the call for him. It was also very good. HEMMER: This is a scene the Americans do not want to visit too many times during this conflict. Ramstein Airbase, nearby medical facility at Landstuhl. Getting the news now earlier today, 12 patients in total arriving there, eight as a result of combat injuries, four as a result of noncombat. Two said to be in ICU, intensive care, but listed in stable condition. And as the doctors just said, they are expected to make a full recovery, which is certainly good news for them and their families back home.

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