With improvements in medical technology helping save severely wounded soldiers' lives, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden said Friday that it's necessary to take care of the troops when they return home.

With improvements in medical technology helping save severely wounded soldiers' lives, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden said Friday that it's necessary to take care of the troops when they return home.

An enormous number of men and women are returning from Iraq with brain damage, lost limbs and other life-altering injuries, Walden said.

"We've saved their lives, which is a terrific thing," Walden said during a meeting with the Medford Rotary, "now we need to make them as whole as we can."

Walden said he supported the latest military spending and veterans affairs appropriations bill, which passed the House by 409-2 margin in mid-June. It features a 7 percent increase in spending, including 1,100 additional employees to sift through a backlog of disability claims.

The Veterans Administration office in Portland was behind by 7,000 claims, and that number has dwindled to just five since the spending bill passed, according to Walden.

Two new initiatives, one to help with traumatic brain injuries and the other to address post-traumatic stress disorder, were addressed with $600 million as part of the bill.

Just as it was when he visited the Jackson County courthouse on July 3, the current state of affairs in Iraq was a major point of concern for Walden, as well as his audience.

The difficult task at hand for Walden and other members of Congress and of the U.S. Senate is what to do now. Walden said he is cautious about pulling troops out of Iraq and leaving the nation in a state of disarray.

"We've fought two wars in Iraq and I don't want us to have to fight a third," he said. "To pull (the troops) out without care for what happens would be a terrible tragedy. And it might precipitate an even bigger conflict in the region, of which we would pay an even bigger price."

A late flight into Medford forced Walden to cancel a discussion that was scheduled for 11 a.m. Friday with U.S. Forest Service and Oregon Department of Forestry officials at the Medford airport's firefighter tanker base.

In an interview following his Rotary talk, Walden said he was concerned about funding for wildland firefighting and wanted to get an update on what firefighters are seeing in the region.

Some firefighters have told the congressman that this is the worst fire season they've seen in 30 years.

"We've got to make sure we've got all the assets we need in place and emergency help if necessary," Walden said. "We're seeing an enormous fire season break out early all over Oregon, especially in Eastern Oregon, Central Oregon ... ."

Following stops in Klamath Falls on Friday afternoon, Walden was scheduled to head for Burns to meet with farmers that have lost land because of the 135,000 acre Egley Complex fire.

Reach intern Bob Albrecht at 776-8791 or e-mail intern1@mailtribune.com.