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Occupational Therapy - Article #3

BJACH Leadership

What is Occupational Therapy?
   Occupational Therapy is a health and rehabilitation profession designed to help people regain and build skills that are important for health, well being, security, and happiness. Occupational therapists work with people of all ages who, because of physical, developmental, social, or emotional deficits, need specialized assistance in learning skills to enable them to lead independent, productive, and satisfying lives.

How did Occupational Therapy become part of the Army health care system?
   Occupational therapists were first used in 1917 during World War I. At that time, they were civilians who were used by the Army to help rehabilitate injured soldiers. They were referred to as "Reconstruction Aides" because they helped prepare wounded men to return home to resume productive lives in such jobs as farming or industrial work. Occupational therapists did such a good job rehabilitating the men that many of them were able to return to duty.
   After proving to be of such value, occupational therapists were again called upon during World War II to provide rehabilitation services to the wounded. Again, they were hired as civilians (Civil Service-commissioned) for the duration of the war. By the end of the war, there were approximately 900 occupational therapists working for the Army.
   On April 16, 1947, President Harry S. Truman signed Public Law 80-36, which established the Women's Medical Specialist Corps. It was composed of occupational therapists, physical therapists, and dietitians. Only women were allowed commissions in the Corps at that time. Men were required to be enlisted.
   After the start of the Korean conflict, it was realized that there were not enough therapists to meet the demand for rehabilitating wounded soldiers. In 1955, Public Law 84-294 changed the title of the Women's Medical Specialist Corps to the Army Medical Specialist Corps. Men were then allowed to work as commissioned officers.

What do Occupational Therapists do in the Army today?
   Occupational therapists continue to provide rehabilitation services to soldiers and their families. They work in the large Army medical centers, smaller Army community hospitals, and Combat Stress Control units. They provide physical rehabilitation services for patients with problems such as broken bones, strokes, head injuries, arthritis, joint replacements, carpal tunnel syndrome, and developmental disorders. At medical centers they provide mental health rehabilitation services for patients with problems such as depression, alcohol and drug abuse, stress, and adjustment and personality disorders. In Combat Stress Control units they provide stress counseling to individuals and to unit commanders. They provide programs to assist in returning soldiers to duty as soon as possible. Occupational therapists also assist with the development and implementation of post and unit ergonomics programs to educate all personnel in injury prevention and proper body mechanics.

What are the services provided by Occupational Therapy at Fort Polk?
   The Occupational therapy clinic at Bayne-Jones Army Community Hospital operates as a specialty clinic. The clinic provides evaluation, diagnosis and rehabilitation services for individuals with a variety of upper extremity disorders as well as post operative upper extremity therapy. The clinic offers limited rehabilitation services for patients status post strokes, and after hip and knee surgery. Additionally, the clinic staff assists with the planning and implementation of the Fort Polk Ergonomics Program.

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COL Mark C. Wilhite
CSM Mark D. Bivins
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