Docs, Vets Call for End to Military Trauma Training on Animals

When an American lies wounded on a battlefield, the training of emergency medical personnel can be the difference between life and death.

However, some are disputing what the training should consist of and how important the use of live tissue trauma training is in preparing physicians and paramedical personnel.

Tissue training is when live animals -- mainly pigs and goats -- are cut, shot or have limbs severed while euthanized as medics try to keep the animal alive. The object is to simulate real world conditions of responding to trauma injuries as closely as possible.

Supporters of this trauma training said these types of injuries are far more common on the modern battlefield because of the wide spread use of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) which result in massive hemorrhaging.

NBC 7 Investigates spoke to a former military doctor at Balboa Navy Hospital, Dr. Thomas J. Poulton, who said he believes the military should stop using animals during medical training because new technology makes it unnecessary.

These issues were addressed during a recent briefing on Capitol Hill held by Congressman Ted Lieu of California and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals).

The congressman told NBC 7 Investigates, "To me it’s really barbaric that we are having this kind of practice for some of our medics in the military."

PETA argued that the public never hears of the non-human victims of war: animals "who are shot, burned, poisoned, and otherwise tormented in military experiments and training exercises.”

Lieu is co-sponsoring a bill which would eliminate the use of animals during military medical training exercises. It's called the Battlefield Excellence through Superior Training (BEST) Practices Act.

“Some services have largely done away with this training; some have not,” Congressman Lieu said. “We want the DOD (Department of Defense) to issue a directive saying no service shall engage in live training of animals where they basically maim pigs, dogs, goats and go have these folks deal with the injuries. It really is torturing these animals.”

Lt. Colonel Dawn Sitzhugh, a doctor of veterinary physician, said the DOD has the responsibility to provide realistic training for combat medics. She said the agency is "moving away from animal based training methods" but the department feels the human models or human simulators aren’t ready yet to provide realistic training.

"The feedback we get from our medics was the animal patients provide them with very realistic training before they deploy and that is critical to the success of our mission," she said. The places where "we have been able to replace animal-based training with simulator-based training, the department has done so.”

She added that it’s not time to completely drop tissue trauma training because to do that would put “members of the military at risk and any compromise of that training puts them at greater risk.”

Dr. Anahita Dua of the Medical College of Wisconsin doesn’t agree. She said, "killing animals is not required at all to insure the training of personnel. What you are gaining is almost nothing.”

She said of her training was done on human cadavers and reusable models, which show the human anatomy. She argues using animals for training jeopardizes wounded soldiers.

When you are training combat medics, Dr. Dua said, you are sending people "who don’t particularly do this type of work in the battlefield, and sometimes all the training they get is on animals, and the problem with that is when they are finally faced with a human, you are talking about a completely different anatomy."

According to the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine, the U.S. military uses more than 8,500 animals every year in its combat trauma training courses, including some raised in San Diego County.

NBC 7 Investigates found a Virginia Beach, Virginia-based civilian contractor had a $399,960 contract with the U.S. Navy to provide combat trauma training in the region. A response to a Freedom of Information Request shows the contractor has been issued a "stop order" by the U.S. Navy because they are in violation of local zoning laws.

Due to the “stop order,” the training has been stopped. According to the documents, if and when the company's trauma training is "properly license and permitted," the Navy's stop order will be lifted.

Click here to read the FOIA request sent to the U.S. Navy.

This story was published with research help from Autumn Shultz, a student at Point Loma Nazarene University.

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