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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 April 2007, 23:55 GMT 00:55 UK
Forces amputees 'return to duty'
British forces on patrol
Operations began in Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003
Most servicemen who lost limbs while deployed in Afghanistan or Iraq have returned to duty following treatment, according to a charity.

The British Limbless Ex-Service Men's Association (Blesma) said it had seen about 37 amputees since operations began in Afghanistan in 2001.

About 78% of them were able to take up posts within the Armed Forces.

Blesma, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this summer, started as an idea by wounded soldiers from Glasgow.

General secretary Gerome Church said about 29 of the 37 service personnel - all men - had been able to return to work.

He said in some cases this may have only been for six months, or a year, but added that many of the wounded would have died of their injuries in previous conflicts.

A lot more people are losing limbs above the knees
Lt Col Gerome Church

Lt Col Church said there was "no doubt" advances in combat medicine and military equipment had saved lives.

He added: "It is noticeable that the amputations seem to be more severe. A lot more people are losing limbs above the knees.

"Before, these people would have been dead but body armour has saved them."

The Ministry of Defence said it worked with the charity, but could not confirm how many service personnel had lost limbs in Afghanistan or Iraq because that kind of breakdown of casualties was not available.

Wounded servicemen and women can become involved with BLESMA while receiving treatment at a military-run ward at Selly Oak in Birmingham.

Lt Col Church said: "They are prepared for the disabled life ahead and the lots of opportunities ahead of them."

Members can take part in activities such as winter sports and sailing, while some recently teamed up with the American Wounded Warrior Project in the US.

Lt Col Church, who lost his right leg below the knee while serving in Northern Ireland in 1972 but went on to attain the rank of lieutenant colonel with the Royal Fusiliers, said there was "terrific camaraderie" among members.

Training accidents

Blesma started as an idea among wounded soldiers living in Glasgow in 1920, but was not formed until 1932.

After World War II it had 115 branches, but slowly shrank to the 24 remaining today.

The organisation has a small national headquarters and two homes in Crieff and Blackpool.

Most of the residents are servicemen or women who served during World War II.

Blesma is also closely involved with personnel who have lost limbs in road and training accidents.

The charity, which does not receive government funding, will celebrate its 75th anniversary in July.


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