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Care for Brain-Injured Veterans Carries High Financial, Emotional Costs

The Veterans Affairs system cares for an estimated 1,600 Iraq and Afghanistan veterans with traumatic brain injuries and other severe wounds. The NewsHour takes a look at the challenges of treating these veterans.

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  • SUSAN DENTZER, NewsHour Health Correspondent:

    Among the wounded from Iraq and Afghanistan, there are miraculous recoveries, like that of brain-injured ABC newsman Bob Woodruff.

  • BOB WOODRUFF, ABC News Reporter:

    I'm standing here tonight because I got the best military and civilian medical care in the world.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    But far more common than Woodruff's case are the traumatic brain injuries that don't end in miracles. Take 23-year-old Joseph Youn (ph).

  • MOTHER OF INJURED SOLDIER:

    OK, watch this, all right? It's OK? If it's OK, thumbs up. Come on, Joe. All right.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Youn was an Army sergeant in Iraq when he was hurt in a suicide bombing two years ago. Penetrating shrapnel forced removal of part of his brain.

  • MOTHER OF INJURED SOLDIER:

    He's doing very well today.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Brought back to the U.S., Youn nearly died several times. One close call came last year, when he acquired a dangerous heart infection while recuperating at a private rehabilitation hospital.

    Near death, Youn was transferred to the Veterans' Health Administration hospital in Manhattan. He's been an inpatient here for the entire past year.

  • DR. MICHAEL SIMBERKOFF, Veterans Affairs Medical Center, New York:

    Joe, how do you feel? Feel good?

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    Dr. Michael Simberkoff, medical chief of staff at the VA hospital, told us Youn has made progress over the past year.

  • DR. MICHAEL SIMBERKOFF:

    He was bed-bound, really uncommunicative, and really almost incapable of, you know, recognizing individuals or responding to stimuli. And he's now getting physical therapy on a daily basis, occupational therapy, some speech therapy, as well.

  • SUSAN DENTZER:

    The VA has told Youn's parents that he can stay at the hospital indefinitely, but that it will also pay to support his care if they choose to take him home or transfer him to a private facility. Whatever the case, his care will clearly cost millions of dollars over his lifetime.

    Meanwhile, Youn's parents, naturalized U.S. citizens from South Korea, are overwhelmed about what to do next.

  • MOTHER OF INJURED SOLDIER:

    I don't know what to do. I can't leave him here. Who's going to take care of him? Every single day, my family is crying, really, every single day.

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