A two-day conference in Washington, D.C., this week will tackle an often overlooked result of combat injuries: the impact war wounds can have on fertility, sex and relationships.
The groundbreaking seminar is sponsored by the Bob Woodruff Foundation. Woodruff, an ABC News correspondent who suffered a serious head injury while covering military operations in Iraq in 2006, co-founded the non-profit with wife Lee Woodruff to support injured post-9/11 troops and their family members.
According to foundation spokesman Sam Kille, the symposium aims to spotlight sex and relationship problems facing troops, veterans and their partners as they cope with long-term recovery from combat wounds.
"Many of our service members face — whether it's from a physical or emotional wound — problems with intimacy. It's something people are afraid to talk about but it needs to be discussed, since it's a silent casualty of war," Kille said.
Topics to be covered include fertility treatments, advancements in reconstructive surgery, sexual dysfunction and regenerative medicine.
Speakers will include Lee Woodruff, military spouses, physicians, psychiatrists and retired Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos and wife Bonnie Amos.
Nearly 2,000 troops received debilitating injuries to their groins or genital regions from 2000 to 2013 and more than 307,000 service members experienced some type of head injury in the same time frame — injuries that can make sex physically difficult or impossible, interfere with one's ability to reproduce or negatively affect sex drive.
An estimated one in five combat veterans may have post-traumatic stress, a condition that also can have a deleterious affect on sex drive.
Conference organizers hope the foundation's first-ever meeting on this sensitive topic will spur discussion and action to help affected veterans.
In the past two years, lawmakers, including Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rep. Brett Guthrie, R-Ky., have introduced legislation to improve fertility services for affected veterans and direct the Defense Department to conduct research on treatment protocols for trauma to the genitals and urinary tract.
DoD provides counseling for couples facing intimacy issues related to injury and has developed several resources available online for those who are affected as well as their health providers, available at the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress website.
The Intimacy after Injury conference is co-sponsored by Johns Hopkins Military & Veterans Health Institute and Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine. It will take place Dec. 11-12 at the Center for Strategic and International Studies headquarters building, 1616 Rhode Island Ave., Washington, D.C.
Patricia Kime is a senior writer covering military and veterans health care, medicine and personnel issues.