Prosthetic’s for Peace. The costs of Land Mines and War.


“Used Prosthesis should be brought to foreign military veterans.”


by Ken Smith 

The best idea that has come across my desk in a while went something like this:

A friend of mine called and said: We should try to find ways to advance ourselves with our allies and even our perceived enemies by sharing our knowledge of prosthetics.  Why don’t we offer a program of “shared” technology training offering our slightly used or still in the package Prosthetic’s ?   You should start up the “Harold Russell Foundation” and do what he did, only better.

When I asked him to explain what he meant, he said, you know, DOD and the VA have “HUGE” prosthetic and orthotic departments and excess inventories and I am sure, if they were asked nicely, they would have no problem with donating to a charity that would have to be set up (Like the Harold Russell Foundation)  where used artificial arms and legs that are either out of service date but still usable, or were used by another disabled veteran but returned for reasons of fit, could be sent to our allies or even to our enemies hospitals.  

Why don’t we take  out of date or used devices, still good by the way, many still in their original boxes and start a program of teaching our friends and even our enemies how to equip their veterans that are in need of these kinds of devices allowing our “allies and enemies” the use of this obsolete but still serviceable gear?

I thought about my friendship with “Harold Russell”, a national veteran’s advocate for over 50 years, two-time academy award winner, double amputee and how he did just this during the 1950’s and 60’s, bringing used prosthetic’s to cold war countries.  He told me stories walking on the beaches of Cape Cod of bringing gear to Romania and Poland, Albania and the Ukraine during times when those countries saw us as the enemy as they were then ruled by the Soviet Union.  A veteran is a veteran is aveteran said Harold.  He knew then just what we don’t know now. Veterans helping veterans is the best medicine for our allies and even for our enemies.

What would it take to have excess prosthetic and orthodic devices brought to Gaza?  Or to Iran?  Or to Pakistan?  Or South Africa?

The issue of logistics and getting stuff from here to anywhere in the world seems like a problem, but then again, we are moving tons of equipment and gear through our Air Force, so getting little used or unused prosthetic gear into allied countries, or to a country that deals with one of our enemies doesn’t seem overwhelming.

Finding funding for a project like this (similar projects exist in the civilian world), seems to be a sticking point, said my friend.  Who would want to sponsor a program like this I asked?

I can think of a half dozen.  Maybe one of those Rothschild’s would take a shine to it, you know, since they all have watched the “Best Years of Our Lives”.   Hmm,   I am sure.

But really, could you imagine the good will we would generate by helping another veteran from other  countries with our used prosthetic gear?  Those who have lost an arm or a leg in fighting or an accident or a land mine and then were treated with an American artificial arm or leg?  The return would be huge.  We put no strings on it, just that it has to help another soldier.

Vets of other countries would be thankful, that vet’s immediate family would be thankful and his relatives would be thankful.  It’s a start.  It just makes too much sense, said my friend.  Nobody in our State Department, USAID or DOD would even think it could be done, or they would find a way to “Study” it for so long, it wouldn’t be worth it in the end.  What is missing my friend said is good ole American “common sense” and that seems to be the real sticking point.  After WWII ended, MacArthur fit Japanese soldiers with prosthetic devices made in America against the advice of his staff, but he did the right thing then and we need to do the right thing now.

If you think we should provide used or excess prosthetics and orthotic devices to any of the following countries, let me know.

  • Pakistan
  • Iran
  • North Korea
  • Libya
  • Tunisia
  • Yemen
  • Somalia
  • South Africa

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My friend said that working to help alleviate the suffering of disabled veterans worldwide would go a long way in making more friends and fewer enemies for the US.

I agree


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For more than twenty-five years Ken Smith has been a leading advocate for veterans. A combat Vietnam veteran, Ken served during 1971-72 as a paramedic and an infantry squad leader with Delta Company, 2nd Battalion, 1st Infantry, in the 196th Light Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. After his discharge, Ken continued his work as a paramedic in New England. On the streets of Boston he encountered growing numbers of homeless Vietnam veterans, and he became determined to both assist them and draw attention to their plight. In 1989, Ken founded the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans, located in a former VA hospital at 17 Court Street in downtown Boston. One of the first facilities designed for homeless veterans and now a national model, the shelter has served over 35,000 of America’s veterans who, for whatever reason, find themselves living on the streets. In 1992 Ken was awarded Point of Light #142 by President George H. W. Bush, and later that same year received the AMVETS Silver Helmet Award, considered the “Oscar” for American veterans. As one of America’s foremost veterans service organizations, AMVETS (or American Veterans) has a proud history of assisting veterans and sponsoring numerous programs that serve our country and its citizens. Ken was awarded this honor along with Peter Coors, with whom he still maintains a personal friendship. Over the years Ken has appeared on many national media programs including Good Morning America, Prime Time Live, ABC News, CBS News, Larry King Live, CNN, 60 Minutes, and The Geraldo Show. He has been quoted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Boston Globe, The Los Angeles Times, The Chicago Tribune, The Miami Herald, and numerous international newspapers, magazines, and websites. In 1992, Ken had the distinction of addressing both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions as a keynote speaker on the subject of veterans. Ken recently left his last assignment with the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation, where he was the chief technology architect of the Veteran’s Vocational Technical Institute, Purple Heart Car Donation program, Purple Heart Call Center, Purple Heart Radio, Purple Heart Tech Support, Purple Heart Services, and over thirty new Purple Heart websites. Ken Smith provided the vision and has overseen the implementation of innovative, virtual, work-at-home training programs for veterans with combat disabilities. Ken has designed, upgraded, and supervised the integration and installation of Purple Heart Service Foundations computer and telephony systems, upgrading features from legacy POTS phones to SIP-trunked communications systems including establishing new VPN networks for teams of remote virtual employees. An adventure sports enthusiast, Ken enjoys extreme skiing, competitive sailing, flying, and travel. He has traveled extensively worldwide, delivering his positive message to the veterans of other countries that a paraplegic veteran of the United States suffers the same as a paraplegic veteran of India; that an amputee veteran of Nepal suffers as much as an amputee veteran of France. Ken’s mentor was Harold Russell, the two-time Academy Award winner who starred in the 1946 film Best Years of Our Lives. A World War II veteran, on D-Day, June 6th, 1944, Harold lost both of his hands. This ghastly misfortune did not stop him, and he went on to become the chairman of the President’s Committee for People with Disabilities. For over fifty years he served US presidents from Truman to Clinton. Ken was humbled and grateful when Harold agreed to serve as the best man at Ken’s wedding. Ken has been instrumental in the planning stages for the Veterans Workshop, a new nationwide veterans’ advocacy group building a new “Veterans Hotline, and the development of special programs for those who have lost their sight or their hearing, or who have suffered spinal cord injury, as a result of their military experience. The Veterans Workshop provides a forum where new technology and advancements in the fields of prosthetic and orthotic solutions, many designed by Ken, are shared along with virtual training and employment programs. A 1970 graduate of De La Salle Academy in Newport, Rhode Island, for the past twenty-five years Ken has continued his education with extensive college courses in computer technology and related social service fields. He resides in his native state of Rhode Island with his wife and children.