Senators: Why Do Troops Lack Tourniquets?
Update: Pentagon Responds to Senator's Questions on First-Aid Equipment
March 8, 2005
Two senators have sent a letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld asking why U.S. troops in Iraq are operating without inexpensive tourniquets that can potentially save lives.
The letter from Sen. Richard J. Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich., obtained by ABC News, refers to a report in Sunday's edition of The Baltimore Sun that there has been a delay in getting new first-aid kits containing tourniquets to the troops.
"A number of our bravest military personnel have reportedly bled to death on the battlefield, and the experts have determined that putting a tourniquet in the hands of every soldier is a vital life-saving measure," the letter states. "Holding up the fielding of a life-saving medical kit simply to optimize its carrying pouch suggests a mindset oblivious to the wartime needs of our soldiers."
Levin is the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Durbin serves on the Senate Appropriations Committee. The senators likened the lack of tourniquets to other "underestimated" equipment requirements, including "body armor, vehicle add-on armor and the production of new, up-armored [Humvees.]"
The Sun article, confirmed by ABC News, said doctors and Army medical officials estimate as many as tens of thousands of soldiers are in combat without the simple medical devices, and that some bleed to death from injuries that would not otherwise be fatal if a tourniquet were applied. It also said the Pentagon has not placed an order for first-aid kits with tourniquets although the Army has approved their use, and the delay may have to do with the development of new training manuals and a pouch for holding the tourniquet.
In the letter, Durbin and Levin said that manufacturers had indicated they can "quickly produce as many tourniquets as are needed," and said that Guard and Reserve units are reportedly more likely to go without the tourniquets than regular Army units.
The senators ask Rumsfeld to determine how delays can be stopped and say it is time for a "thorough review" of the processes used to determine equipment requirements and to respond to emerging needs.
"Why do we continually find ourselves behind the curve in this war, scrambling to provide basic equipment and protection to our troops only after too many of them suffer grievous injuries?" the letter states. "What are you doing to change the thinking within the Pentagon to better anticipate equipment needs, to ensure that when a need is identified it is filled in an expedited fashion, and to ensure that Guard and Reserve units receive that equipment at the same time as regular Army units?"
Tourniquets on the Way
Starting in mid-April, 172,000 new tourniquets will be distributed, and every soldier is expected to have one by August, Army Surgeon General's Office spokeswoman Virginia Stephanakis told ABC News.
The Sun said that while the Army equips medics with tourniquets, soldiers often are separated from medics during combat.