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Innovative Rehab Method Giving Combat Amputees an Active Life

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Sam Kittner/Kittner.com

Combat amputees have come back from Iraq and Afghanistan physically and emotionally devastated. Charles Scoville has given them new hope.

At the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., Scoville developed an innovative medical, counseling and sports rehabilitation program that helps combat amputees regain their independence, restore their sense of dignity and self-worth, and allows them to lead active lives.

“It’s an interdisciplinary approach to patient care that looks at our patients as tactical athletes,” said Scoville, chief of the Amputee Patient Care Service and a former Army physical therapist. “They do things they never did before and reach more high level activities than in the past.”

Scoville oversees the staff that is currently working with about 170 amputees and has helped drive research into advances in prostheses. Some of the 1,450 injured service members who have been through the program have gone on to complete triathlons, climb Mt. Everest and compete in gymnastics, skiing, rowing and other sports.

“Our wounded warriors have been out running, on a bear hunt or scuba diving in Guantanamo Bay,” Scoville said. “It continually reinforces that everything is going to be okay.”

More than 300 have gone back into military service, and 53 have redeployed into Iraq or Afghanistan, including one individual with an above-the-knee amputation who went on to lead 350 Marines overseas.

A decade ago, the military was equipped mainly for treating a small number of active-duty amputees and older amputees who had lost limbs due to diabetes or vascular problems, not in combat. Care consisted mainly of getting patients mobile enough to be discharged or transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for care.

“What we aim for is the soldiers to make the decision of what they will do with the rest of their lives, and take it away from the person who set the improvised explosive device or fired the rocket-propelled grenade or the rifle,” said Scoville.

This profile is part of a series featuring the recipients of the 2012 Samuel J. Heyman Service to America Medals. Presented to outstanding public servants by the nonprofit Partnership for Public Service, and sponsored in part by Bloomberg, Booz Allen Hamilton, The Boston Consulting Group, Chevron and United Technologies Corporation, the prestigious Sammies awards are offered in nine categories. To nominate a federal employee for a 2013 medal go to servicetoamericamedals.org.

The Partnership for Public Service works to revitalize the federal government by inspiring a new generation to serve and by transforming the way government works. Visit ourpublicservice.org for more information.

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