A Consumer's Perspective: MAJ (Ret) David Underwood
MAJ (Ret) David Underwood has been involved with the military for his entire life. His father was an Air Force pilot in Vietnam and, later, a diplomatic attaché in West Africa. He spent the last 9 years of his 26-year career in Washington, DC working in Plans & Policy and the Department of Defense (DoD) Joint Staff before and during Desert Storm. His last three working years were spent as the DoD coordinator for the United Nations Special Commission on Iraq after Desert Storm. For David, joining the Army following graduation from high school in 1988 seemed quite natural.
David initially enlisted as an Airborne Infantryman in the Army Reserve, later moving to the Virginia National Guard while attending the Virginia Military Institute. In 1994, he went on active duty with the 82nd Airborne Division and joined a peace-keeping tour with the Multinational Force and Observers in the Sinai, Egypt. In 1998, he was commissioned as an Artillery Officer and served in the 1st Infantry Division in Germany and the 3rd Infantry Division at Fort Stewart, Georgia. During his career with the Army, David was deployed to Sinai, Egypt in 1995, Skopje, Macedonia in 1999, Kosovo in 1999, 2000, and 2002, Baghdad, Iraq in 2005, and Mahderiah, Iraq in 2007.
On January 16, 2008, David was leading a dismounted patrol to clear houses within their area of operations. While walking between two houses, he stepped on a pressure strip, activating a house-borne IED that severed his left arm at the wrist and tore off the the front of his left leg. He also received approximately 100 smaller wounds resulting from the house shrapnel. David was evacuated by helicopter to the Combat Support Hospital in Baghdad, where he underwent three surgeries to remove his left hand. He subsequently underwent an additional amputation of his left arm in Landstuhl, Germany, due to tissue death. Later, he was moved to the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, where he underwent additional surgeries, including a third amputation to his arm to remove damaged tissue. The remaining muscle would eventually be fitted with advanced prosthetics.
Despite his injuries, David initially planned to continue his career in the Army. While finalizing his therapy and going through the Military Evaluation Board and the Physical Evaluation Board to remain in the Army, he completed a Master's degree in History from the University of Texas at San Antonio. In June 2012, he moved to Kansas to attend Command & General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth. However, by this time he began experiencing balance issues as a result of a dehiscence of the left inner ear, stemming from his 2008 blast-related injuries. Because of this new problem, MAJ Underwood medically retired from the Army one week following his 23rd enlistment anniversary.
Following his injury, David began working with the Wounded Warrior Project, speaking on Capitol Hill alongside the President, as well as taking part in eight Soldier Rides around the country to raise awareness for Wounded Warriors. From 2008 to2010, he served as the Wounded Warrior Advisor to the Chairman and Board of Directors of the Military Officers Association, which helped shape legislative goals to help Wounded Warriors.
"I think it is important for those of us that have been through the process of being wounded, treated, and living with the injuries to give back if we can to help those who cannot. I have a traumatic brain injury, but I am lucky enough that I can still think coherently and communicate effectively. For those reasons, I feel I have a duty to be a voice for the others who are not lucky enough to still have those abilities."
In 2011, COL (Ret) Becky Hooper, Ph.D., from the Center for the Intrepid at Fort Sam Houston nominated David to serve as a Consumer Reviewer for the DoD Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs (CDMRP) Peer Reviewed Orthopaedic Research Program. He commented that his experience with CDMRP has been excellent. He was pleasantly surprised to find that he is treated as a peer by the MDs, PhDs, and other specialists on the panel. He enjoys seeing the "behind the scenes" work developing new treatments for disabilities, as well as being able to provide the experts in the field with insights into what wounded warriors need.
"CDMRP has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my life. Not only do I find the material fascinating, but I have had access to some truly great minds, and have found answers for my friends and me in areas we and our doctors could not answer. It is a chance to remain up to speed with what is going on, what is new, and what may be in a few years. It is also an opportunity to be with an incredible group of selfless wounded warriors, and be inspired by them."
In April 2014 David underwent an additional surgery on his amputated arm to bury three nerves and reduce the pain that he was experiencing as a result of neuromas. This procedure, called targeted nerve reintegration, was developed for above-elbow amputees in 2009,one year after he received his injury. He is currently undergoing validation tests at the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to determine if this procedure will also serve as a viable option for treating below-elbow amputees.
"Since joining CDMRP and working closely with academics and clinicians both on the panels, and at the University of Texas, I now include them in my list of heroes. They have open minds and receive information objectively, dissect it rationally, and get results. The information I provided to one young scientist in Texas on my neuropathic pain and the triggers I had observed, resulted in a year of tests on mouse models validating my observations and resulted in that young scientist earning his PhD. He wrote me an incredibly nice email stating that our conversations had changed the course of his academic work, and his future focus. That is the kind of impact a Consumer Reviewer can have."