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Army's $50 million high-tech rehab center for amputees and burn victims opens

Of the roughly 20,000 soldiers injured since the start of the Iraq war, more than 500 have lost a limb _ many of them in roadside bombings.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Of the roughly 20,000 soldiers injured since the start of the Iraq war, more than 500 have lost a limb _ many of them in roadside bombings.

On Monday, a $50 million high-tech rehabilitation center opened that is designed to serve the growing number of soldiers who return from war as amputees or with severe burns.

The privately funded Center for the Intrepid includes a rock-climbing wall, a wave pool and a virtual reality computer system. About 3,200 people attended a dedication ceremony, including Gen. Peter Pace, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; and 2008 presidential hopefuls Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York and John McCain of Arizona.

Clinton, a Democrat, said Americans are firmly behind the nation's veterans, despite the rancorous national debate over the Iraq war.

"There is common ground on higher ground, and on that higher ground, we stand to pay in full our debt" to those who were wounded in combat, she said.

McCain, a Republican former Navy pilot who spent nearly six years as a POW during the Vietnam War, said those maimed in battle can't be compensated enough.

"We can only offer you our humility. You are the best Americans," said McCain, standing before dozens of soldiers who entered the ceremony on crutches or in wheelchairs.

The 60,000-square-foot, four-story glass building will allow the Army to move its rehabilitation program out of the Brooke Army Medical Center and into a separate facility.

"The Center for the Intrepid is going to let us keep advancing what we've been doing," said Maj. Stewart Campbell, the officer-in-charge of rehabilitation at Brooke. The facility tells soldiers "we're going to take care of you for as long as you need us, to get you back to where you want to be," he said.

At Brooke, amputees were being treated in offices and facilities carved out of the larger hospital.

The new center includes a 360-degree virtual reality sphere to help soldiers recover their balance and other basic skills, and a wave pool where they can use wake boards to strengthen their backs and abdominal muscles.

Staff Sgt. Jon Arnold-Garcia, who lost part of a leg in a grenade attack, got his first look at the rehab center on Sunday.

"This place is amazing, that the American people donated the money for this," said the 28-year-old from Sacramento, Calif. He has been in rehabilitation at Brooke since May, but he was eager to get to work at the center.

"It doesn't look like a hospital," he said. "It's a place I can see myself getting up and being motivated instead of walking hospital hallways with doctors."

Prior to the Iraq war, amputees were generally given acute care by the military and then turned over to the Department of Veterans Affairs, said retired Col. Rebecca Hooper, program manager for the Center for the Intrepid.

But since 2003, the military has kept those patients and made rehabilitation part of its mission.

Amputee rehab programs are now being run at Brooke, Walter Reed Medical Center and Bethesda Naval Medical Center.

The center was funded by private donations to the Intrepid Foundation, a charity that has built dozens of houses to shelter families of wounded soldiers while they undergo treatment.


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