Published: December 2006
Did You Know?
In Did You Know? the National Geographic magazine team shares extra information we gathered to expand your knowledge of our featured subjects.

"Severely wounded" no longer has to mean the end of a military career, as a small number of U.S. veterans of the war in Iraq are showing.

The military has regular procedures in place to help severely wounded military personnel transition to civilian life after rehabilitation. But what if the soldier, sailor, airman, or marine wants to remain on active duty?

Often the services have invested much time, effort, and money into training these people—just sending one soldier to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point is estimated to be an investment of at least $225,000—costs covered by tax dollars. Specialized technical or language training drives those investments even higher.

If a highly trained soldier on the front lines is seriously wounded, he or she has to pass a medical board examination to determine whether he or she is still fit for duty. Though one might assume that a person wounded in battle would be eager to return to civilian life and stay out of the war, this is often not the case; frequently, wounded warriors are eager to get back on the job and are especially keen to get back to their comrades at the front.

American attitudes toward the handicapped have changed greatly since our last big war 40 years ago, as civil rights, women's rights, and, most recently, the Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 have made their mark. Technology has kept pace, with advances such as voice recognition software, computerized prosthetics, and jobs based more on information than on brute force, all of which allow someone with knowledge and experience to contribute, whether or not their body is whole.

Out of a few hundred severely wounded soldiers, only 14 have gone through the medical review process and been cleared to continue serving their country. This includes people with amputations and some who have lost eyesight in one or both eyes. Their training and leadership are benefiting their comrades in arms instead of the private sector, and they are living the lives they had chosen to lead, instead of allowing circumstance to cut short a promising career.

—Elizabeth Snodgrass