The Pentagon shortchanges its military nurse-researchers who save GI lives

The Pentagon shortchanges its military nurse-researchers who save GI lives
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Some 53,000 U.S. GIs were wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. Most survived and made solid, if not always full, recoveries. In many cases, they are moving ahead with their lives because of the lifesaving research conducted by researchers who are or were military nurses. 

Nurses doing research? Nurses can be scientists? That may come as a surprise to some who consider nurses to be the health care “boots on the ground” whose only purpose is to toil at direct patient care. Military nurses in research roles hold PhDs and doctorates in nursing practice, and have the ability, savvy and sheer love of their patients that we associate with nurses. 

They know precisely what injured service members need to keep them alive and how to rehabilitate them. Their work is supported by that of military nurse-researchers, who have conducted groundbreaking research in resuscitative care, combat casualty care, specialized treatment provided during air evacuation, and care until service members return to their families or community. This contributes to the readiness of the force.

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Work done by military nurse-researchers has included testing powdered clotting agents that stopped hemorrhaging in wounded GIs, saving lives on the battlefield that otherwise would have

been lost. These nurse-researchers have examined service members’ mental and ethical preparation for the rigors of military service, especially in wartime. They have explored resilience training, helping men and women returning from combat to successfully adjust to post-deployment life and to be prepared for future deployments.  

The unique, lifesaving work of military nurse-researchers has been possible only because of the existence of the TriService Nursing Research Program (TSNRP) — the “tri” is the Army, Air Force and Navy, working together. The program was the vision of the late Sen. Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii), a World War II Medal of Honor recipient who said he survived his wounds because of Army nurses.

No one can do the work of military nurse-researchers, and their research happens only if the TSNRP funds them. TSNRP never has had much funding — no more than $7 million at any one time in its history. Think about the lives saved and ask, how many more lives might have been saved had there been more funding for military nursing research? 

The Pentagon — specifically, its Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, the Department of Defense (DOD) university that trains military nurse researchers — has opted to eliminate the program altogether, under pressure to save dollars. The fiscal year 2021 requested funding level for TSNRP was $6.5 million — a tiny fraction of DOD’s more than $700 billion budget. This proposal was supported only by the House and, without a similar proposal from the Senate, Congress did not fund the research program. 

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Compared to zero FY 2021 funding allotted to TSNRP for research, civilian nurse researchers from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Nursing Research are projected to receive some $199 million for FY 2022. The NIH nursing research program has an advocacy organization — the Friends of the National Institute of Nursing Research (FNINR) — to lobby Congress. Military nurses have no such organized lobby, relying on the goodwill of supporters such as ROA, the Reserve Organization of America. That means military nurses rely on a small group of dedicated, retired colleagues to ask for funds on their behalf. 

If your daughter were suffering from complications after a bomb blast, you would want a nurse-scientist from the military who understands war to help treat her wounds. The only source of funding dedicated to military nursing research is TSNRP. But inadequate funding for the TriService Nursing Research Program cripples the ability of nurse researchers to improve care for our young heroes. 

Funding for the TSNRP must reflect the critical importance of its work. At a minimum, for fiscal year 2022, this funding should be at least at the level of the president’s budget: $6.5 million. 

Deborah Kenny, PhD, RN, FAAN, a retired Army lieutenant colonel, is a past director of the TriService Nursing Research Program (TSNRP) and a professor of nursing.  

Margaret Wilmoth PhD, MSS, RN, FAAN, a retired Army major general, is chair of the ROA Health Services Committee and a past recipient of a TSNRP grant.

Jeffrey Phillips is executive director of ROA, dba Reserve Organization of America. A retired Army Reserve major general, he served in the Regular Army for nearly 14 years.