American veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan can face problems readjusting to civilian life, but they are getting help from organizations that honor their contributions. Mike O'Sullivan reports that the launch of a support group in Los Angeles brought out Hollywood celebrities and service members injured in Iraq.
Navy hospital corpsman Aaron Seibert says he is lucky to be alive. The 35-year-old sailor was stationed in Iraq in April, 2006, helping build a patrol base for Iraqi troops. Three mortar rounds came in, and one hit him.
"I realized that I was hit, started bleeding. I went to take a step, buckled down to my knees, ended up crawling into the building. With a marine standing over me, I was able to talk him through my care, to get me to a place where I could actually feel comfortable and he was able to put a tourniquet on my leg and do a couple of things. But I'm lucky to have my leg. I'm lucky to have my life -- over 100 pieces of shrapnel to the body, but I'm happy to be here," he said.
Marine Corps Staff Sergeant Paul McQuigg is also lucky to be here. "I was hit by a roadside bomb in February of 2006," he said.
McQuigg suffered severe injuries to his face and upper body, and says military medics saved his life. After he was injured, he was flown to a base in Germany, then to Bethesda, Maryland, for surgery and rehabilitation.
Seibert and McQuigg remain on active duty at Camp Pendleton, California. They came to Los Angeles for the launch of an organization called Step Up 4 Vets, established by Beverly Hills philanthropist Patricia Kennedy. After years of supporting the arts, Kennedy has turned her attention to returning veterans with physical or psychological injuries.
"I think that as a society, we need to get to know them. I mean, we watch television. We know who's on "American Idol." But isn't it a shame we don't know who our real American heroes are, and these are the ones coming back from the war," he said.
Musical superstar Wayne Newton came to support the effort. So did astronaut Buzz Aldrin, and Hollywood actors Hugh O'Brian, Stefanie Powers, and Kate Linder. Linder, who is known for her role in the daytime television drama "The Young and the Restless," has visited troops in Afghanistan and other parts of the world. She says she is involved not because she supports the war, but because she supports the troops who are serving their country.
"It really, for me, doesn't have anything to do with the war. I mean, I'm not really a war person -- I'm not for war. But I am for these men and women, and I've been with them and I've seen them and I've seen what they're doing. So they're there fighting for us and we have to remember that," he said.
Aaron Seibert and Paul McQuigg say they are proud of their service in Iraq and believe their efforts helped the Iraqi people. Congressman Bob Filner, a Democrat from Southern California, has opposed the war from the start, but says that returning troops should be honored and given assistance. Filner, who chairs the House Committee on Veteran's Affairs, says that critics of the war in Vietnam in the 1960s and '70s did not distinguish between the conflict and the troops who fought it.
"I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan and I've seen the incredible job these young men are doing. But when they come home and lose that camaraderie that they have and the adrenaline rush, they've got real problems -- mentally, and they may have been brain injured. And we're simply not taking care of them as a nation. And when the private or civil sector steps in and shows that all of America is concerned, that's really important for these young men and women," he said.
A study last year by the National Alliance to End Homelessness found that military veterans are more likely to be homeless than members of the general population. It said 66,000 veterans are chronically homeless, and that many more have inadequate access to health care and other support. Congressman Bob Filner says some in government are working to change that, and that private organizations such as Step Up 4 Vets are helping.