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  • Mike Wildeman and Nicholas Mellor

Re-finding purpose and creating opportunities for amputees

Updated: Dec 30, 2023

Veterans recovering from severe physical trauma and amputation often are faced with a sense of guilt that they cannot return to their comrades in their units and are faced with uncertainty about their livelihoods and ability to support their families.

Veterans who may have been previously completely missioned focused and then find themselves abruptly removed from the conflict and separated from the shared goal, their unit members and friends are often left completely isolated and possibly suffering survivor's guilt.

Even when the physical scars have healed and prosthetics may have restored some degree of independence, the psychological trauma can be much longer lasting and difficult to manage. The resulting frustration and difficulty of families understanding what has happened can lead to violent behaviour, addiction and even suicide.

A sense of purpose and opportunity can have a major impact on the prognosis of how an amputee copes with the rehabilitation journey. It can provide a focus, something to look forward to and a reason to be thinking beyond the very immediate, very acute sense of crisis.

In this briefing paper we explore the importance of reskilling amputees and share insights from case studies from around the world, including the UK, Afghanistan and Kosovo.

The challenges facing amputees

Amputees face a range of challenges in their lives, including the physical and emotional impact of losing a limb, the financial burden of rehabilitation and medical care, and the difficulty of adapting to a new reality. We will explore the importance of reskilling amputees and the benefits it brings to both the individual and society.

Regaining a Sense of Purpose

Amputees often struggle with feelings of worthlessness and a loss of purpose after their injury. By learning new skills and re-entering the workforce, amputees can regain a sense of pride and accomplishment, which can have a positive impact on their mental health. Reskilling can also help amputees redefine their identity and find a new sense of purpose beyond their disability.This is something that Mike Wildeman shares in the video below.

Financial Stability

The cost of rehabilitation and medical care can place a significant financial burden on amputees and their families.

Reskilling amputees can help them earn a living and reduce financial stress, improving their quality of life and reducing the likelihood of depression and anxiety.

Additionally, by becoming financially independent, amputees can regain a sense of control over their lives and improve their self-esteem.

Contribution to the Economy

Reskilling amputees can also have a positive impact on society as a whole. By providing them with new opportunities, we are not only improving their lives but also contributing to the economy.

Reskilling can help fill labour or skills shortages in industries that may be struggling to find workers, while also increasing diversity and representation in the workforce. By tapping into the unique skills and experiences of amputees, we can unlock new avenues of innovation and growth.

Injured veterans from the Kosovo Liberation Army were offered priority at the Cisco Networking Academy. With little telecoms infrastructure, the new country was able to reskill soldiers or militia as networking engineers, feeding into what became known as the Internet Project Kosovo.

What is remarkable about this project is the dual return on investment – both financial and social, it provided training and jobs for people with disabilities with priority given to veterans and communications for isolated and insecure communities with limited internet access. Ultimately IPKO became the leading regional telecoms company whose services reach over 98% of the population in Kosovo. It is the second mobile operator in the country, before it was ultimately sold.

Inclusion and the ICRC’s orthopaedic project in Afghanistan

Another example is the ICRC’s orthopaedic project which started in 1988 in Kabul with Alberto Cairo, joining the programme in 1990.

Since 1988, it has grown exponentially and now comprises seven rehabilitation centres across the country. A sense of its scale comes from the number of people that have been supported by this project. 190,000 physically disabled patients have been registered since the start, of whom at least 150,000 receive treatment at one of the centres each year. This highlights the need for a lifetime of support for its people. About one-quarter of them are amputees – mostly victims of mines and explosive remnants of war – while the rest include sufferers of polio, spinal injuries, congenital deformities, cerebral palsy and accident victims, among others. Some of them need treatment for many years, often for the rest of their lives.

One of the most remarkable achievements about the orthopaedic centres is the fact that nearly all the 815 staff themselves have disabilities.

Alberto Cairo commented in an interview

"We implemented this positive discrimination policy from the very start, only employing physically disabled people to work in the centres. It is good for everyone. The staff understand the needs and challenges first-hand, and for the patients, it gives them hope and motivation."

He noted that this inclusive approach was "hard work at first convincing people this would work – even the ICRC – but I was absolutely determined. Today we are much more focused on inclusion, and I don't think anyone would reasonably question the logic of what we are doing here now."

Returning to the air

An example of reskilling that may resonate particularly with service amputees, is Mike Wildeman’s story of setting up Team Phoenix with the support of the Douglas Bader Foundation and returning to the skies.

Such examples are rare, but their inspiration can have a much wider impact. Another example from the British military is Captain Jim Bonney who went back through the entire Marines training course at Lympstone, re-qualified as a marine and returned to front line duties. Captain Jim Bonnie ended up commanding the Royal Marines medical rehab unit

Team Phoenix aims is to showcase the abilities of disabled people, to act as an inspiration to the public and to carry a message of inclusivity and diversity.

Mike will be part of an upcoming Q&A when he will share his experience of the journey of an amputee and what it took as an amputee pilot to get up in the air once again. In this he was supported by the Douglas Bader Foundation.

The Douglas Bader Foundation is a charity founded by the family of RAF hero, Sir Douglas Bader to help people affected by limb loss and other disabilities. Douglas Bader himself lost both his legs following a crash in his plane but returned to lead a squadron of Spitfires in the second world war. The Douglas Bader Foundation is a co-sponsor of the upcoming mission to provide support for amputees in Ukraine.


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