The U.S. military should be treating more Ukrainian service members suffering major injuries on the battlefield against Russia, a pair of U.S. senators said Tuesday.
Sens. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Tammy Duckworth, D-Ill., made the comments after visiting a Ukrainian soldier who received a prosthetic leg from a clinic in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., with the help of charitable foundations.
“I suspect that we as a nation will work on more [help for Ukrainian service members] because we have a history of treating amputees from allied nations or friendly nations who can’t be treated in their own home country,” said Duckworth, a retired Army National Guard lieutenant colonel who lost both of her legs while serving in Iraq and recalled that members of Georgia’s military were being treated at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center at the same time she was.
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“Sen. Van Hollen and I are going to get together and see about what we can do to make the resources available to the most severe wounds,” she added. “Some of these wounds, there’s just not capacity at all in Ukraine. And a lot of places, they just don’t have the expertise that exists here at Walter Reed.”
Duckworth and Van Hollen met Tuesday with Oleksandr Chaika, a 33-year-old children’s choreographer who joined the Ukrainian military after Russia invaded in February and was deployed to fierce combat in the Luhansk province.
In April, a tank shell exploded near Chaika. He survived but developed gangrene in the hospital in Ukraine, so doctors amputated his right leg.
The Future for Ukraine Foundation, which was founded to provide humanitarian aid to Ukrainians in need because of the war, paid for Chaika and his wife to come to the United States. Medical Center Orthotics and Prosthetics, which has experience treating wounded service members and veterans as a former contractor at Walter Reed, provided Chaika with his prosthetic leg and rehabilitation pro bono.
“This has changed my life,” Chaika said about the prosthetic leg, speaking through a translator.
Chaika also thanked Van Hollen and Duckworth for America’s “help in our fight in this war for independence,” adding in English, “thank you very much.”
The partnership that brought Chaika to the United States, which has been dubbed Operation Renew Prosthetics and also includes a nonprofit called Brother’s Brother Foundation, has plans to bring another five Ukrainian amputees to Medical Center Orthotics and Prosthetics for treatment.
Guidance signed by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in late June allows the U.S. military to treat wounded Ukrainian service members at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, but U.S. European Command said in July no Ukrainian troops had been treated there.
European Command did not immediately respond to an emailed request for comment Tuesday on whether any Ukrainians have been treated at Landstuhl since July.
Duckworth and Van Hollen are not the first to call for more U.S. medical assistance for Ukraine. In April, a bipartisan group of 17 House members wrote a letter to Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, calling on them to “showcase American leadership by providing critical medical support to Ukrainians that will inspire other NATO states to follow suit.”
Meanwhile, Congress has approved more than $60 billion in military, humanitarian and economic aid for Ukraine since Russia invaded. Most recently, lawmakers signed off on about $12 billion last month. Most of the funding has gone to the Pentagon to ship weapons to Ukraine and support U.S. troops deployed elsewhere in Europe to bolster NATO defenses.
Speaking to reporters after meeting Chaika, Duckworth said she wasn’t sure if Congress, which is currently on recess until after the November elections, needs to do more to ensure the United States treats severely wounded Ukrainians and vowed to press the Pentagon on the issue.
“The military may have the ability to do it already, so we’re going to go back and take a look and see if we need to do anything,” she said. “When we come back after the election, we’ll still have time to be able to do that.”
Van Hollen similarly noted the billions of dollars Congress has allocated to the Pentagon for the war in Ukraine and said senators will “have to look” at whether those funds could be used to treat Ukrainians or if further legislation would be needed.
“We are supporting Ukraine in every way we can in terms of military assistance and support, working to impose sanctions on the Russian economy. This is the kind of thing that I think that we can provide support,” Van Hollen said.
— Rebecca Kheel can be reached at [email protected] Follow her on Twitter @reporterkheel.
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