Just as wounded soldiers are returning home from Iraq and Afghanistan with amputations, brain injuries and post-traumatic stress disorder, a new survey finds flagging public support for biomedical research needed to help them recover.
Two people who can testify to the importance of such research are ‘CSI’ actor Robert David Hall, and Lt. Col. Tim Karcher of the U.S. Army. Both men are double amputees. On Thursday, they helped launch an education and media campaign to raise support and awareness for basic biomedical research to help wounded veterans and civilians.
“I have arguably $80,000 – $100,000 worth of legs on right now,” Karcher told ABC’s ‘Top Line’ today, showing off his new prosthetics beneath a pair of khaki shorts.
“It’s a little tougher if you’re a civilian,” quipped Hall, “I only have $30,000 worth of legs on me.”
It was a good-natured exchange with a serious message. Karcher lost both his legs in Afghanistan in 2009. Since then he says he has seen and experienced huge progress in the biomedical and prosthetics fields.
Karcher said he is not worried about declining support for soldiers like himself.
“There’s no other nation in the world that would put the kind of investment in their wounded soldiers like our nation does,” he said.
But Hall, a civilian, said a survey released last week found waning public opinion on basic biomedical research. The survey, from Zogby International, reported support among Americans dropped to 55.7 percent, down from more than 70 percent during the Vietnam era.
“I can’t tell you how important it is to keep the ball rolling. It’s one of the reasons Tim and I are here, is to make sure that funding is maintained,” said Hall.
The actor said while he realizes it is a tough time economically for Congress, the country must not let down service members. Especially since military research for veterans often transfers over to civilians.
“I work in TV which is fiction,” said Hall, who plays Dr. Al Robbins on CBS’ CSI: Crime Scene Investigation. “This is reality. Keeping research and advancements moving forward is something I care a lot about … If it weren’t for many advances in my case the last 33 years, I wouldn’t have a career.”
Karcher’s new legs are the latest prosthetic advancement, they were approved for above-the-knee amputees less than 4 months ago; Karcher was the first to receive them. The legs have a 5-day batter life — a significant improvement from the 36 to 40-hours in the previous version. Karcher also said they have running and stair-climbing functions, and have a more natural gait.
“They just, they’re better all around,” said Karcher.
“I have the old version,” said Hall, pulling up his pant leg to give a side-by-side comparison of the prosthetic legs. “And this is the cooler new one,” he added, patting Karcher on the knee.
Karcher said a joint project between the Department of Defense and a private company is working on “combat-capable” legs. Karcher’s legs are one of the first generations of such prosthetics.
“Most of us who were injured in combat, we want to go back to our units, we want to continue to serve with our fellow soldiers,” said the lieutenant colonel.
Does Karcher see a day where he can return to the field of combat?
“I hope so.”