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Posted at 11:29 AM ET, 11/11/2011

Veterans Day: Our veterans need more than compassion. They need our imagination


President Barack Obama shakes the prosthetic hand of U.S. Army Sgt. First Class Leroy Arthur Petry of Santa Fe, N.M., who received the Medal of Honor for his valor in Afghanistan. Petry lost his right hand as he tossed aside a live grenade during a 2008 firefight in Afghanistan, sparing the lives of his fellow Army Rangers. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak) (Charles Dharapak - AP)

It’s Veterans Day.

The Washington Post’s Petula Dvorak writes that America’s veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are more likely than a civilian to be unemployed. The jobless rate for veterans last month was 12.1 percent, compared with the civilian rate of 9 percent, according to the Department of Labor.

If there was a segment of the nation’s population more in need of our collective imagination and innovative energy, one would be hard-pressed to find one.

I came across the photo above of Army Sgt. First Class Leroy Arthur Petry shaking President Obama’s hand during a ceremony at the White House where Petry was awarded The Medal of Honor — “the highest award for valor in action against an enemy force which can be bestowed upon an individual serving in the Armed Services of the United States.”

Petry was honored for throwing a grenade that had been tossed by enemy combatants in Afghanistan — an act that saved not only his own life, but the lives of two of his fellow soldiers. Petry lost his right hand as a result.

Innovations for America's veterans

" What innovation would you most like to see to improve the lives of our nation's veterans. "

Given a choice between keeping his wrist as is and having a prosthesis, Petry chose to replace his wrist with a prosthetic one. The process highlights the long way we’ve come in military medicine:

C. Todd Lopez wrote the following on how Petry, his orthopedic surgeon, Col. James Ficke, and his prosthetist worked to fine-tune the treatment:

Ficke said that he was able to close Petry's wound over his wrist, so the Ranger had available a functioning wrist that could provide rotation. Ideally, a prosthetic hand would fit over that and he would use his own wrist to rotate the hand. But his own wrist was not as capable as it could have been, Ficke said.
"Sometimes his own ability to turn that wrist would not be as good as some of the prosthesis," Ficke said. "He and I and the prosthetist, all kind of talked and decided to have a shorter forearm and take away that wrist so that he could have a prosthesis that would do that with motors."

And, according to the report, Petry is happy with the results:

"It's a great hand," Petry said. "It's got a couple of sensors built in underneath the casting right above the skin. What'll happen is, every muscle contraction you make will send signals up to the hand. Each finger, when it meets resistance, it will stop. So you got more dexterity to grab round shapes and stuff like that and this particular hand is able to have a couple of other modes, where you can pinch and [do ] a grasp."
Petry's prosthetist built a fitting to slide over Petry's forearm so the hand can attach, and also placed sensors to pick up electrical signals from his muscles. After working with a therapist, Petry's robotic hand moves with the very signals he used to use to control his own hand.

The field of prosthetics is fast-evolving with the advent of 3-D printing and developments in the field of robotics. But, given the condition of our veteran population in the United States, as Dvorak outlines, we cannot move fast enough. And this is merely one arena in which our veterans need the power of innovation. The Washington Post’s On Leadership section outlines the challenges facing the military community just on the leadership front alone.

So, what innovation do you think that the nation needs to focus on in order to improve the lives of our nation’s veterans? We’ll be following your feedback in the comments.

Read more news and ideas on Innovations:

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11 Top trends in innovation for 2011 (so far)

Share your memories of those who have served

By  |  11:29 AM ET, 11/11/2011

Categories:  Health, Invention, Technology

 
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