The Longest Battle

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CBS

The combined casualty total for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq now shows more than 2,900 killed and more than 20,000 wounded. Many of those who were wounded would have died on the battlefield in any previous conflict. But as CBS News national security correspondent David Martin reports, those who survive terrible wounds may then face an everyday battle to get the care they need.

Corey Briest is paralyzed on his left side and unable to speak. He's one of the wounded you never see — a soldier whose brain was so badly damaged by shrapnel from a roadside bomb that he will never be able to care for himself.

Just giving a thumbs-up to a therapist is a medical miracle. Corey almost certainly would not have survived in any previous war. Even his wife, Jenny, didn't think he was going to make it.

"We literally sat there and planned his funeral, next to his bedside," she says. "A doctor overheard us and said, 'What are you doing?' He said, 'I'm not ready to give up.' We said, 'Neither are we.'"

Corey was transferred to the Veterans Administration hospital in Minneapolis, which has one of four trauma centers created specifically for the most severely wounded soldiers in this war.

"I was told, 'You're going to the top place for brain rehab. There are four places in the country; you're going to the top one,'" Jenny says.


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But Corey's mother, Diane, says what they found there was a shock.

"The very first night we were there, the medical care was horrendous," she says.

Corey, who still depended on a tracheotomy to breathe, had been left alone in a darkened room with the door closed.

"His gown was half-off," Diane says. "He had coughed his trach mask off."

Doctors at the hospital insist Corey's life was never in danger. But that was the beginning of a perhaps-inevitable struggle between the family and a medical staff dealing with the multiple complications of caring for a grievously wounded soldier.

The Briests' main complaint: Corey wasn't getting all the therapy he needed. Therapy increased to 2½ hours a day after the South Dakota National Guard, where Corey served, met with hospital officials.

"For about a week after that, he was getting top-notch service," says Jenny. "Now it's slowly going down, missing therapy because there's not enough staff to get him out of bed to get him there."

The VA, which agreed to discuss the details of Corey's care after Jenny signed a privacy waiver, insists he didn't miss therapy sessions because of a staff shortage. He was a grievously wounded solider whose complex medical needs had to come first.

Jenny is still not convinced.

"I would never leave Corey there alone," she says. I wouldn't trust them enough to leave him alone up there."

Corey continues to make slow, painful progress, while Jenny continues to torture herself with this question: "He was injured in combat, and this is the best care we can give him?"

After six months in the VA system, Corey's family moved him to a private hospital where they believe he'll get the care he deserves.