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A Wife's Battle

Not knowing where else to go, Michelle heads upstairs to the PTSD offices. Troy has already done one 45-day stint in the residential program, and Michelle has been trying to get him in again. She knocks on the door of a counselor, a big, bald, friendly man who does not wave off the intrusion.

"You think he's violent at this point?" the counselor asks.

Michelle dodges the question. "He's not getting any counseling," she says, leaning against the door.

The counselor explains that all 50 beds in the program are full and the waiting list is 25 deep. "I apologize for not being able to get him in right away," he says.

Michelle's voice breaks. "I know you are doing the best you can," she says. "Anymore, he's just ashamed. I wish I had a video camera set up to show the people at the VA: This is what an average day looks like."

She goes back for Troy, who has finished his tests. He is yawning and tired. He tells Michelle how hard he tried, and she smiles and touches his arm. They go upstairs to make an appointment with Troy's psychiatrist. The clerk tells Michelle that unfortunately the doctor is on leave for the next month. The first available slot is five weeks out, at 8:30 a.m.

"Is there anything later than 8:30?" Michelle asks, politely. "We have a three-hour drive."

Nine o'clock is the best they can do. The appointment is for 20 minutes.

The last stop of the afternoon is the travel reimbursement office on the first floor. The government has promised to care for its wounded, but the proof is often in cramped places such as this, where disabled veterans stand in line to get their mileage reimbursed. The VA mileage rate has not changed since 1977. While a federal worker gets 48.5 cents per mile, a disabled veteran is still paid 11 cents a mile.

Michelle steps to one window and gets a receipt for $14.52. At the next window, $6 in government "deductibles" are taken out, bringing the grand total to $8.52.

On the way home, Michelle pulls into a Flying J truck stop, pumping gas in the hot breeze, watching the numbers spin higher.

'Ain't a Scratch on Me'

Money became so desperate this spring that Michelle contacted Operation Homefront, a national organization that gives emergency assistance to deployed service members and the returning wounded. In a sign of the deepening financial crisis faced by many back from war, Operation Homefront has provided $2 million in bailout funds to 4,300 families so far in 2007, double last year's caseload.


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