Swamped by Coronavirus, Besieged USA Once Again Turns to Military Heroes for Rescue

Pentagon reports 15,000 retired military medical professionals — including surgeons, nurses, medics, dentists, veterinarians and a one-time Navy anesthesiologist — volunteer for another tough fight. But are their methods ready for today’s challenge? Defense Department bets pioneering spirit of Dr. Walter Reed, Army major who vanquished yellow fever, will inspire research into a cure for, and treatment of, Covid-19 victims.

April 5, 2020

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WASHINGTON (Rueters) — President Trump has issued an order permitting the Pentagon to reactivate thousands of military medical veterans to augment forces already involved in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

But cautious Defense Department officials were quick to point out the overwhelming response by retired professionals to today’s call-to-arms may attract “a certain number” of medical volunteers who are not up to meeting the challenges of Covid-19.

“We’ve seen something like 15,000 vets raise their hands and offer to help,” said one Pentagon official. “But frankly, we’re not sure all of them are ready for prime time. Some of their methods may not be up to date with current practices.”

Trump said Friday night the decision to tap the country’s veteran medical population was “beautiful” and nearly as “perfect” as his call with the Ukrainian president that led to his impeachment last December.

This decision will “allow us to mobilize medical, disaster and emergency response personnel to help wage our battle against the virus by activating thousands of experienced service members, including retirees,” said Trump who reiterated the federal government has “everything under control.”


Dr. “Frank,” a Romanian immigrant who joined the US Army sometime around World War I, told Rueters he’s anxious to continue experiments with cadavers. “Fortunately, I see there will be no shortages this time,” he commented. (Photo Transylvanian Photo Agency)

An Army spokesman, Lt. Col. Emmanuel Ortiz-Cruz, said retirement communities, nursing homes and hospices had been “fertile ground” for the Pentagon’s latest recruitment drives.

“Some of their skills may need updating, but all in all,” said Emmanuel, “we have at the ready a corps of dedicated professionals who’ve shown they don’t buckle under pressure and are ready to serve their fellow Americans.”

American medical volunteers in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic include veterans of nearly every major US military engagement since the Civil War. While their methods may be a bit dated, said a senior Army Medical Department official, “they learned under fire how to treat people. Maybe they didn’t save as many as we do today, but hell, we’ve got a high death rate already. How much worse can it get?”

One aspect of military medicine that has improved in recent decades is anesthesia and pain management thanks in part to retired pioneering Navy anesthesiologist Jose Nada-Payne. “We’d be delighted to employ Dr. Nada-Payne in the coronavirus fight,” said a Pentagon medical adviser. “Before there was the ether, there was ether, the gas. Dr. Nada-Payne recognized its value to medicine and began working with patients to perfect its application.

“Sure, not every patient survived, but that’s the medicine game. He probably didn’t lose anymore than we’re losing with the virus,” the adviser told Rueters.


Although coronavirus isn’t associated with dental difficulties, that hasn’t stopped several hundred retired military “Doc Hollidays” from offering their services during the pandemic. “They’re jealous because, well, they aren’t us,” said one retired Army surgeon. “They got the job done, sure. But how many (patients) would willingly go back to them?”

The Pentagon also is wrestling with how to best use veteran veterinarians during this national health crisis. “Mostly, we dealt with nags, and today, it’s mutts,” said one DOD assistant secretary. “We don’t want to discourage them, but rabies and bone spurs aren’t really human complaints, are they? Oh wait.”

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