Brain-Injured Vets Face Gap In Care

Sgt. Eric Edmundson
Just six weeks into his tour of duty in Iraq, 25-year-old Sgt. Eric Edmundson of New Bern, N.C., called his father to say he was holding his own, CBS News chief investigative correspondent Armen Keteyian reports.

"He mentioned to me, 'Don't worry Mom and Dad. If anything happens to me in the Army, they pay,'" says Ed Edmundson, Eric's father.

But two days later, a roadside bomb exploded while Eric was on patrol, severely wounding him. A subsequent heart attack cut off oxygen to his brain.

In intensive care at Walter Reed Hospital, Eric received outstanding treatment for his traumatic brain injury, but quickly, Ed says, the Army was "dead set" on discharging Eric into the hands of the Veterans Administration. While some relatives of the brain-injured say they are satisfied with the VA's care, Ed believed it was ill-equipped to handle his son's rehabilitation.

"That threw up a flag with me because my son felt the Army was going to take care of him," Ed says.

During the next year, Ed made hundreds of calls and wrote thousands of e-mails to Army brass, pressing to keep his son on active duty, his options open. Then, last September, a military case manager revealed that on active duty, Eric was eligible for private, civilian care.

"They loaded him up in a station wagon and brought him to our front door and asked, 'Can you help him?' And we said absolutely," says Dr. Joanne Smith.

Smith is the CEO of the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. She says the government has not responded to previous offers of help from world-renowned private care centers like hers.

After only two months, Eric has already regained some ability to communicate. Today, he remains the only Iraq combat veteran being helped there.

"First as a U.S. citizen, second as a physician, it is not only disappointing, it might be a travesty," Smith says.

Eric's time at the facility was extended for another three months. It's all thanks to a father, and a family, determined to hold the Army accountable for the fate of a son.

"He would have done it for me," Ed says, crying. "Eric is a soldier in the United States Army, combat-wounded. He deserved the best. He was going to get it."

CBS News has learned that, just last week, the Defense Department made a long-term commitment for soldiers suffering from severe brain injuries to get treatment at the Chicago facility. Keteyian reports that the center is expected to treat as many as 100 soldiers at a time.