An Unforeseen Cost of War

ByABC News via logo
February 28, 2007, 8:05 AM

Feb. 28, 2007 — -- Jarod Behee was shot in the head in Iraq. He survived, but is still suffering from the aftereffects of a traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

The Department of Veterans Affairs estimates that Behee is one of several thousand veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan with some kind of mental disorder or brain injury, but veterans advocacy groups place that number even higher.

"What you have are two sets of books," said Paul Sullivan, a spokesman for Veterans for America.

"The Department Of Defense saying that there's 23,000 wounded from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but the Department Of Veterans Affairs is actually treating 205,000 veterans from these two wars," Sullivan said.

The VA contends that the 205,000 is for treating all veterans, including the standard care that returning soldiers are allowed to receive for life.

However, by its estimates, 73,000 soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered from some kind of brain injury or mental disorder.

It is an unforeseen cost of war that has overburdened the VA system, according to recent reports in Newsweek and congressional hearings on the subject. Veterans seeking treatment face red tape, weeks of waiting, and often to have to pay for outside experts in order to have their disability claims processed.

Behee's wife, Marissa, was so frustrated with the care that her husband had received at the VA in Palo Alto, Calif., that she pulled her husband out and put him in a private facility.

"For the first month, I thought this isn't he way he should be treated," she told "Good Morning America."

The VA in Palo Alto said that Behee's injury was complex, and that the Behees needed to be more patient.

Jim Nicholson, a spokesman for the Department of Veterans Affairs, acknowledges that there are delays in the system, but says the department is struggling to overcome a lack of knowledge about TBIs.

"This is a relatively new phenomenon. We are all doing intense research on it," Nicholson told "GMA's" Robin Roberts.

After six years of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, veterans' affairs advocates are asking why the VA did not take action sooner.