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'Pigs make lousy soldiers' Why billboards along I-35 are targeting BAMC

An organization of physicians, many of whom are veterans, want to end the use of live animals for practicing battlefield surgeries.

SAN ANTONIO — New billboards along a six-mile stretch of I-35 are hard to miss.

They show a pig wearing a helmet, with the words "Pigs make lousy soldiers. Stop using animals to train army doctors."

The organization behind the ads is targeting Military City USA -- more specifically -- Brooke Army Medical Center (BAMC).

The organization that put up the billboard is founded and managed by physicians, many of whom are veterans.

They want BAMC to stop doing surgeries on live pigs to prepare medical staff to treat injuries on the battlefield. They say they've been pushing for this change for seven years because there are better, more advanced methods available.

"You're not gonna save a pig on the battlefield. This is nonsense," said Dr. John Pippin, the Director of Academic Affairs for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine. "We don't intend to give up."

The physicians organization is once again calling on BAMC to step up the game in their "emergency skills" course.

"We don't want to think that this is all they know how to do," said Pippin, who is also a cardiologist.

Instead of using farm animals, the doctors recommend simulators -- or more advanced technology -- that better replicates the human anatomy.

"We don't send our soldiers into the battlefield with muskets," said Pippin. "That's exactly what's going on here. You don't need to use pigs."

Memorial Day, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine sent a letter to decision-makers at BAMC.

In it, they wrote: "In 2015, DoD eliminated the use of animals from several categories of medical training... courses that overlap significantly with BAMC's "emergency skills" course."

"Brooke Army Medical Center is just so far behind the standard of practice that we can't let this go. We've got to get the public involved," said Pippin. 

Pippin says at least three military bases in the United States conducted their own studies showing that purpose-design simulation produces better results.

The letter shares that point, too, saying studies prove the trainees, the instructors and the results on the battlefield are better served with more realistic simulation training.

"Brooke Army Medical Center is shortchanging its soldiers, it's shortchanging the families of these soldiers by not providing the best training methods. That's why we won't let it go," said Pippin.

Out of 285 emergency medicine training programs in the U.S. and Canada surveyed by the physicians organization, 98% said they do not use animals in their training. The letter states that BAMC uses at least 130 pigs per year for their training.

The Chief of the Communications Division at Brooke Army Medical Center sent a statement to KENS 5 in response to the letter.

They say, "While DoD is not required to phase out live animal use for medical education and training... they are committed to reducing the use of live animals in medical education and medical readiness training to the fullest extent possible. This includes replacing the use of live animals with medical modeling and simulation whenever possible."

The physician organization's billboards can be found along I-35 at the intersections of Binz Engleman and Splashtown. Another billboard is planned for the intersection of San Pedro and Euclid.

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