Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

Blood donations remain vital for Service Member care

Man walking with assistance at a PT clinic Jason Hallett underwent physical therapy at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland after recovering from osseointegration, a complicated procedure where a prosthetic limb is surgically anchored and integrated into the patient’s bone. (Courtesy photo.)

Recommended Content:

February Toolkit | Coronavirus | Convalescent Plasma Collection Program

The Armed Services Blood Program is the military's only blood donor program for service members, their families, retirees, veterans, and local communities worldwide, helping those in critical need. Both whole blood and COVID-19 Convalescent Plasma from those who have recovered from COVID-19 remain in high demand. All 21 donor centers adhere to CDC guidelines to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

When it comes to the need for donated blood, soldiers on the battlefield understand. For Marines witnessing a member of their unit in danger of losing life or limb, it locks in quickly. They instinctively begin lining up to give because they see the human face behind the small needle sting and the hanging bag of blood.

Those in charge of military blood banks want stateside donors to see this face, too. Look no further than former Marine Cpl. Jason Hallett, who as a minesweeper serving in Afghanistan in 2010 lost both his legs above the knee, his right arm over the elbow, and fingers from his left hand, among other wounds.

Blood donation “is definitely one of those things that when you’re actually needing it, it’s front-of-mind,” Hallett said from his home in Windsor, Colorado. “To get people motivated who do not see a right-away need for it, it’s just a matter of getting into a right mindset.”

Air Force Lt. Col. Valerie Sams, trauma medical director at Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio in Texas agrees.

“For military members, it’s really easy downrange to see it, but it’s kind of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ sometimes,” Sams said. “I think people don’t realize operations are still ongoing, even today. And we have brothers and sisters out there in harm’s way that are getting injured. So, when you’re back home in your local military treatment facility, it probably doesn’t reach that level of criticality, but downrange, it does.”

While there’s a need for all blood types, the universal donor, O-negative, is always in particularly high demand.

Military operating room scene
Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Valerie Sams, right, serving as trauma czar and operating on a combat casualty at Craig Joint Theater Hospital, Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, in 2019. (Courtesy Photo.)

Hallett explained that he has no idea of how much donated blood has coursed through his system over the years, but it’s fair to say quite a bit. He was in three major military hospitals over four months after his trauma, and lost count of the number of surgeries and blood transfusions he underwent. Some of them were lost in memory due to medically induced comas. As if that weren’t enough, his body often had bad reactions to the blood he received, such as iron deficiency or extreme fatigue, meaning that yet another transfusion was needed to stabilize him.

“Any surgery that I had, there had to be a follow-up transfusion,” he recalled. Hallett has not needed blood in well over a year, since he underwent “osseointegration,” a complicated procedure when a limb prosthesis is permanently, surgically anchored and integrated into the patient’s own bones and flesh. He spoke of this all matter-of-factly, so when he talks of re-framing the issue of blood donation, his experience shows.

“For people stateside, I guarantee that there are people they know who have had to have a transfusion,” he said. “It’s just getting that story, and that background — that ‘if this person that I’m close to didn’t have a transfusion, they’d probably not be here right now, or they would have some significant issues.’”

Hallett likened the blood supply to car insurance.

“If you don’t have it and all of a sudden you need it, it’s like, ‘Oh, crap,’” he said.

Image of Jason Hallett holding his infant twin babies.
Former Marine Cpl. Jason Hallett cuddles with his twins, Jason Jr., and Marina. Hallett was severely injured when he stepped on an improvised explosive device in Sangin, Afghanistan on Oct. 23, 2010 Thanks in part to lifesaving measures, multiple surgeries and dozens of blood transfusions, he was able to become a father to the twins in October 2016. (Courtesy Photo)

Hallett said he’s amenable to helping with getting the message out about the critical need for blood donors, speaking from example. More blood drives that partner with wounded warrior organizations could help that. 

“I don’t think a lot of people are very open with stuff like that,” he said. “I do think having people like me that are wanting to share that, it’s kind of important. I think it would be very, very helpful.”

Others in the military who have served overseas and who previously could not give blood might now be eligible, due to sweeping changes implemented by the ASBP last summer that will allow thousands more to donate. The changes were in response to updates in guidance from the Food and Drug Administration.

When asked if it was safe to say that if more people gave blood, it would directly save more lives on the battlefield, Sams did not hesitate.

“Absolutely,” she said, adding that service members have died because of battle injuries followed by not enough blood on hand, or not enough available in the so-called “golden hour” after a grievous injury.

“In the forward environment at the point of injury, that has happened, and we know that’s the number one cause of mortality in combat — those patients that were injured who needed both blood and surgical control of their bleeding, and they couldn’t get it in time.”

Blood drives and walking blood banks in forward areas are very successful, Sams said. But as Hallett alluded to, when the urgency is not present, often the donors aren’t, either.

“When there are multiple injured soldiers, their units show up, and line up by the tens to hundreds to donate,” she said. “It’s a little bit trickier in garrison when people are just going about their normal lives. It’s just not at the forefront of their mind. As we advertise these blood drives, we need to tie it back to that.”

That means tying it to the trauma suffered by civilians on the home front, too. Giving blood so it can be delivered only to the front lines overseas is not really the point, Sams said. “But when we’re doing these blood drives, it needs to be tied to the reason we do everything we do, and that’s to save lives on the battlefield. That’s the whole purpose of our existence.”

Donated blood also benefits wounded warriors who are stateside, as many of them are in need of multiple surgeries over the course of months, or even years. And yet, even a proselytizer like Hallett realizes that the importance of blood donations can be easily forgotten. He was confronted with that understanding when, more than four years ago, his ex-wife gave birth to twins. Because she had to have a C-section, she needed a transfusion. After all the blood he had received over the years, it gave him pause.

“We have to remind folks. Most people who donate, donate multiple times,” Sams said. “They donate every chance they get. Once folks make the connection, they will become a sustaining donor, but we have to help them make that connection sometimes. I think we should do a little better job of that when we’re doing the blood drives.”

Sams backs up her words with action, and says the kind of medicine she practices has influenced her desire to donate her own blood frequently. And a good thing, too. Her blood type is O-negative. 

You also may be interested in...

Is It Allergies or COVID-19?

Infographic
5/11/2021
Infographic that describes the difference between symptoms of allergies and those related to COVID-19

This Infographic provides a chart that outlines how to tell the difference between COVID-19 and allergy symptoms

Recommended Content:

Symptoms of COVID-19 | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

COVID-19 Vaccine: All Adults Eligible Graphic

Infographic
4/22/2021
A navy and gray graphic stating that all eligible and authorized DOD individuals can make a COVID vaccine appointment. Contains a QR code for individuals to use to sign up for an appointment. TRICARE logo is located at the bottom right corner.

Graphic stating that all eligible and authorized DOD individuals can make a COVID vaccine appointment. Contains sign up instructions.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

COVID-19 Vaccine: All Adults Eligible MTF Option Screensaver2

Infographic
4/22/2021
A screensaver that encourages individuals to check in at their DOD vaccination sites to see appointment availability. Includes the TRICARE logo on the bottom right and a link at the bottom of the screensaver for individuals to learn more at www.tricare.mil/VaccineAppointments

A screensaver that encourages individuals to check in at their DOD vaccination sites to see appointment availability.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

COVID-19 Vaccine: All Adults Eligible Choices Screensaver

Infographic
4/22/2021
A navy and gray graphic with information on where adults can get the COVID-19 vaccine. Includes a link at the bottom of the graphic for www.tricare.mil/CovidVaccine and also has the TRICARE logo on the bottom right corner.

A screensaver that provides information on where adults can get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

VAX Fact Breastfeeding

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Fact Q and A: Can I get the COVID-19 vaccine if I'm breastfeeding? It's up to you to decide.  The CDC says COVID-19 vaccines can be offered to pregnant or breastfeeding women.  If you have questions about getting vaccinated, a conversation with your healthcare provider may help but is not required.

An infographic answering the question of whether you can get the COVID-19 vaccine if you're breastfeeding.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Fact Other Medical Conditions

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Fact: Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I have other medical conditions? If you have underlying medical conditions, you can choose a COVID-19 vaccine if you have not had an immediate or severe allergic reaction to any ingredients in the shots. Vaccination is an important consideration for adults of any age to reduce risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

An infographic answering the question of whether you can get the COVID-19 vaccine if you have underlying medical conditions.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Fact Protection Last

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Fact: How long does a COVID-19 vaccine protect me for? We do not know yet how long protection may last for those who receive a COVID-19 vaccine.  We do know a COVID-19 vaccine may reduce your chances of spreading the illness to others or facing more serious illness, including hospitalization. Getting a COVID-19 vaccine is a safer choice.

An infographic answering the question of how long the COVID-19 vaccine protection lasts.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Fact Current Infection

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Facts: Can I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I currently have a positive COVID-19 infection: No. People with a COVID-19 positive test result or illness symptoms should wait to be vaccinated until they recover and meet the criteria for discontinuing isolation.  This also applies if you get COVID-19 between a first and second vaccine dose.

An infographic answering the question of whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine if you currently have a positive COVID-19 infection.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Fact Affect Fertility

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Fact: Does a COVID-19 vaccine affect my fertility? There is currently no evidence of fertility impacts due to COVID-19 vaccines.  If you are trying to conceive or want to get pregnant in the future, you may choose to receive a COVID-19 vaccine when one is available.

An infographic answering the question of whether the COVID-19 vaccine affects a person's fertility.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

VAX Fact Currently Pregnant

Infographic
4/19/2021
VAX Fact: Should I get a COVID-19 vaccine if I'm currently pregnant? Talk with your healthcare provider to help you decide if you should get a COVID-19 vaccine.  Clinical trials evaluating the safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines may offer data and outcomes in the future.  The CDC has a smartphone tool called v-safe.  It offers personalized health check-ins that you can enroll in after a vaccination.

An infographic answering the question of whether to get the COVID-19 vaccine if you're currently pregnant.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Is It Your Time to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Infographic
3/5/2021
This graphic informs TRICARE beneficiaries which tier they fall into as their local military treatment facility or clinic offers the vaccine.

This Infographic informs TRICARE beneficiaries which tier they fall into as their local military treatment facility or clinic offers the vaccine.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Genetic sequence data for SARS-CoV-2

Infographic
6/5/2020
Infographic describing how DoD was able to conduct genome sequencing on the COVID-19 virus

Genetic sequence data for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes #COVID19, plays a vital role in force health protection efforts within the DoD. To jumpstart sequencing efforts, the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch's Global Emerging Infections Surveillance and Response applied a collaborative approach to sequencing capabilities. Resulting sequence data will provide critical information about transmission patterns, track diagnostic effectiveness, and guide the development and evaluation of medical countermeasures.

Recommended Content:

Armed Forces Health Surveillance Branch | Coronavirus | Global Emerging Infections Surveillance
Showing results 1 - 12 Page 1 of 1

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.