By Michael Collins
U.S. Reps. Phil Roe and Scott DesJarlais said Thursday that a weekend trip to Afghanistan left them convinced that American troops injured on the battlefield are getting top-notch medical care and that the overall situation in the war-torn country is improving.
"As a physician, I was incredibly impressed with the level of health care they get on the ground and in the hospitals there in Afghanistan. The care they get is second to none," said DesJarlais, R-Jasper.
Roe, a Republican from Johnson City and a member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said he arranged the trip for the five-person congressional delegation because he wanted to see what kind of care soldiers are getting not only in Afghanistan but also as they are moved back into hospitals in the United States.
"I really personally don't care what it costs to take care of these veterans that have served our country," said Roe, a physician who served two years in the Army Medical Corps. "That is an obligation we have, and it's a long-term obligation we have to care for them the rest of their lives."
During its two days in Afghanistan, the bipartisan delegation visited medical treatment facilities in the field, received briefings on the war from military commanders and ate meals with soldiers. The group returned to the United States on Tuesday.
Roe, who made a similar trip to Afghanistan 2½ years ago, said things have improved markedly since his first visit there.
"What I saw were more roads, I saw traffic jams, I saw neon signs," he said. "None of that was available when I was first there, so there are businesses moving in. Things are getting better."
The question, he said, is whether the Afghans will be ready to provide security for the nation by 2014, when U.S. forces and allied troops are scheduled to leave.
For DesJarlais, who took office in January, the trip was his first to Afghanistan and his first official trip abroad as a member of Congress.
"You can look on a map all day, you can watch TV all day long, but until you get there, you see the terrain, you see the challenges they face; it's really hard to understand what these folks sacrifice on our behalf," DesJarlais said.
"For me, it was just very moving to see the level of dedication and professionalism that was displayed by all of these troops and leaders there.''