The Advance Study, funded by Help for Heroes and the Ministry of Defence, is studying the long-term health and welfare of people who were wounded on the battlefield. Expert clinicians are comparing everything from bone density to cholesterol levels and lung capacity to work out what wider impact being wounded might have on a Veteran’s overall health.
Battlefield wounds sustained in a split-second can take years to heal. Many Veterans Help for Heroes supports would never have survived their injuries before, and little is known about what the long-term impact will be of these wounds. Often, they are in pain and struggle with the relentless daily battle of adapting to life with their injuries. Some are dealing with injuries so severe, they previously would have been fatal. Many will suffer from the consequences of these injuries for life – even if the full impact is hidden or only understood many years after service. Eleven years after Lance Corporal John Herbert was involved in an improvised explosive device (IED) explosion in Afghanistan’s Helmand province, he still finds splinters of glass, plastic, and metal emerging from under his skin. Some of them he is able to prise out, others cause him to cut himself when he shaves. Almost daily, he is reminded of the damage the blast did and he is worried about the long-term effect on his body. Will the shrapnel under his skin poison his blood or tissue, and how will his brain injury affect him in the years to come? During the conflict in Afghanistan alone, 2,188 military personnel were admitted to field hospitals, many with life-changing injuries. A recent Kings College London study revealed that the 265 operationally injured Veterans who sustained 416 amputations between 2003 and 2014 will require approximately £288 million of medical support for trauma care, rehabilitation and prosthetics over an average remaining lifetime of 40 years. John is one of over 1,000 taking part in the study. He believes that doing so will address some of the uncertainty that he and his family feel they currently face in the years ahead. “Taking part in the Advance Study means a lot to me, it feels like people actually care. I think people do understand (some of the needs of injured Veterans) but that there’s a lot still to learn,” says John. Staff Sergeant Craig Davis is also taking part, as part of the control group, which allows the research teams to identify what hidden, long-term damage the wounded body might have sustained. Keen to do something to help those less fortunate than him, Craig has given up some of his Leave and flown over from Germany to support the study. “I’m taking part not only to understand what my own body has been through in during 17 years of army service, but also to help the team gather knowledge that will hopefully improve (the lives of those injured). I feel privileged to be taking part,” he says. When our Heroes sign up to the Armed Forces, they make a promise to protect our country. In return, we make a commitment to support the wounded and their families, whenever they need us. Together, we can give them one less battle to fight.