A new generation of severely wounded veterans is now emerging among us, their brains battered, their arms and legs blown off. Many would have died in earlier wars but survived in Iraq thanks to better battlefield medicine.
Correspondent Mike Wallace talks to some of the most resilient of these veterans, who now must plan a future completely different from the one they had expected when they signed up.
Melissa Stockwell always wanted to be a soldier. But living out her dream meant patrolling in Iraq in Humvees, with no armor and no doors.
While on patrol, a roadside bomb blew off Melissa's left leg.
"It didn't register that my leg was gone. I just saw blood on my leg. So I said, 'I'm hurt. Something happened to my leg. I think I'm hurt,'" she remembers.
Melissa says her leg felt as if it was burning. When a tourniquet was put on to stop the bleeding, she says she really felt the pain. "And that's also when I kinda thought to myself, 'OK, maybe something's really wrong,'" she says.
Her husband arrived while she was undergoing surgery.. He was also a soldier serving in Iraq.
"I looked at him and I said, 'I think something happened to my leg.' And he just held my hand and he said, 'It's gone. Your leg is gone,'" Melissa recalls. "And that's when I found out."
That was also when she realized she couldn't be a soldier anymore.
"And you wonder, 'Like what's my life gonna be like now?'" Melissa says. "Every amputee at one point or another has to make a decision. Do you live in the past and wonder why me and all that kinda thing? Or do you just accept it and move on? And I think I accepted it really early on, that I'm not gonna get my leg back. So I'm just gonna go on."
Melissa is full of enthusiasm for her country, her life … and now, her new leg.
Her prosthetic leg goes all the way up to her hip. Getting her new leg helped Melissa find a new calling: She is studying to be a prosthetist, to help other amputees.
"So when someone first gets injured and loses a limb, they'll come into my office and I will fit them for their prosthetic arm or leg, whatever it may be," she says. "Before I got hurt, I didn't even know what a prosthetist was."
Melissa says she now hopes to inspire other amputees. "You're a soldier, you get injured and your life doesn't end. You can have a prosthetic leg. And you can get up every day, put your leg on, have a normal day."
"Normal" for Melissa means swimming five days a week. Many amputees stay active to prove to themselves that losing a limb cannot hold them back.
Another vet, Brian Neuman, lost his left arm in Iraq. This winter he learned how to snowboard. A year ago he was leading his unit in a battle in Fallujah when he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.
"It hit me basically right at my left elbow. It took my arm completely, right off. I got out of the vehicle, holding my left arm in my right hand," Brian remembers. "I got out running with my arm in my hand. And when something like this happens, you know that you have about a minute of just dust and light and heat. And you know your brain goes through, 'OK. Something hit us.' And then you say, 'I'm alive.'"
Medics raced Brian to the hospital, where he had to face the fact that his special ops days were over.
"That's the absolutely hardest part," Brian says. "When you when you first get injured, I mean, literally you're taking a soldier who's used to being out fighting, going every day. Leading his men. And suddenly he will no longer do that. First, you go through the frustration of the fact that your guys are still over there fighting. And you aren't. You actually feel a little guilty — and then it sets in."
But the guilt is gone and Brian has a new career working for a nonprofit group called the "Wounded Warrior Project." He helps other wounded vets adjust to their new lives overcoming their wounds.
"That's my new focus," he says. "It's like my new mission. It's like I'm in the military. And the guys behind me, the guys that I work with now, are my new family. Or they're my new unit."
Brian helped lead a wounded warriors ski trip where vets could develop their skills despite their disabilities.