U.S. troops injured in Iraq face tough homecoming
Spectators cheer and wave as they watch a parade to honor Iraq War veterans pass on Jan. 28, 2012, in St. Louis. / AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
WASHINGTON Many of the troops injured in Iraq didn't realize until much later how their lives would change, reports Cami McCormick.
Scott Quilty woke up on a military plane, after being injured south of Baghdad in 2006. He learned he'd lost an arm and a leg.
Veteran status earns an interview, but not always a job
"You realize, this is a change, this is for real, this happened. This is not just a bad dream. This is going to affect me for the rest of my life. What am I going to do now?" says Quilty.
Dawn Halfaker didn't know until she woke up at Walter Reed hospital that she'd lost her arm in an ambush in Baquoba and felt just as hopeless.
"I was focused very much on the succession of loss. I lost my arm, I lost my career," says Dawn.
Chris Santiago, who lost both legs near Fallujah, agrees losing that military connection was isolating, and difficult.
"The toughest part was leaving the military and leaving it injured. Because, all that time, I had set goals to work on, whether it be in rehab, or just life goals of getting out and being done. And once I left, it was kind of like, ok now what?" says Santiago.
"That moment of, what am I going to do with my life, who am I? Because the military is such an identity for people; when that's stripped away from you, there's just a lot of uncertainty," says Dawn.
For all three, even while they were still patients, the search began for their new lives and careers.
Santiago, just 23, was offered a job at the Commerce Department but couldn't bring himself to show up.
"At the time, I was having a lot of problems with my memory and concentrating, and kind of focusing on tasks, and I thought, well obviously the physical aspect of what I used to do is gone, and if I can't remember things and focus, how can I do any sort of job?" said Santiago.
Quilty showed up at his first interview, late, on pain medications, and wasn't surprised when he was passed over. But eventually he found his place at a DC based web design firm, where he says his boss took a chance.
"They took a big chance on me. They had never hired a military vet, it was kind of an unknown quantity, both in business development and in the industry, and I'm going on three years there. Found a home within that industry, and been doing quite well," says Quilty.
Santiago, too, eventually found a job in finance. "It's been great, it's given me a lot more confidence in my own abilities that I'd lost."
And Dawn Halfaker started her own company, partly due to the inspiration from other injured troops who helped motivate her to move forward.
"It's not about what I don't have, it's not about what I lost, it's about what I still have," says Dawn.
Her company employs veterans, and appeals to them partly because it understands the culture they come from.
"I think everybody's really drawn to this company based on our motto, which is continuing to serve, and what we're finding out is it's not just about the legacy of having served in the military, it's about what you can do going forward," she added.
She also understands the obstacles wounded veterans will face for the rest of their lives. "Even the people that I think are successful and do well; I think there's little battles they fight every single day."
The battles can be both emotional and physical. Scott Quilty says he still thinks of Iraq each day because he has to reach for that prosthetic leg every morning, but he's still hopeful his mission served a purpose.
He even hopes to take his young children to Iraq one day.
"I would want to go show them. What I would want to go see is a place that's moved on, and is safe and peaceful. I don't think we're there yet. I left a part of me over there; I spilled a lot of blood on that sand."
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