Mike Derer  /  ASSOCIATED PRESS
** ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY, SEPT. 30 ** Denise Mettie kisses her son, Evan, a brain-injured Iraq war veteran, after a physical therapy session at the Kessler Institute of Rehabilitation in West Orange, N.J., Sept. 7, 2007. Mettie, of Selah, Wash., has been living "paycheck to paycheck" while she helps in the recovery of her son. (AP Photo/Mike Derer)
updated 9/30/2007 1:24:35 PM ET 2007-09-30T17:24:35

At first, the government stood firmly by both Evan Mettie and his family.

After a car bomb in Iraq blew metal shards into his brain, he spent three months being treated in a Naval hospital in Bethesda, Md. The government and a nonprofit paid for his family to travel cross-country to visit him. They stayed for free at a government residence.

Later, the government agreed to pay for his treatment at a private rehab center in New Jersey.

But once Evan Mettie was medically retired from the Army, most travel allowances ended. And his parents started to notice expenses piling up.

They’ve spent several thousand dollars for travel, mostly to get to their son’s bedside in recent months in West Orange, N.J. A fundraiser in their hometown of Selah, Wash., has helped.

But Denise Mettie, the soldier’s mother, had to quit her $30,000-a-year job as an assistant bank manager to be with him. While her husband, Dave, has kept working at his computer graphics job, it was her employer that provided health insurance coverage for her and her two teenage daughters. The new annual policy cost $9,000.

“Once he became retired, definitely no family support,” Denise Mettie says of federal benefits. Her son’s illness has cost the Metties about $30,000 so far, she says.

He does collect $7,000 in monthly disability pay from the Department of Veterans Affairs and $800 from the Social Security Administration, she says. And the VA agreed to cover the cost of his private care at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in New Jersey.

And the family has been able to invest their son’s $100,000 insurance payout for severe war injuries to cover his future needs.

Does all that sound like a tidy income?

Consider this: Today Evan Mettie — a 23-year-old who used to amuse his family with clever wisecracks — can’t walk or talk. At best, he’s able to push a button that answers simple questions with a recorded “yes.” Sometimes he just stares.

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His severe brain injury “has taken away any future chance of employment, children, marriage, family. He will be with us for the rest of his life, as long as we live — and somebody will need to always take care of him,” says his mother.

Scars from IraqThe family has finally been planning for a homecoming. But their house needs $90,000 worth of ramps, an elevator, and other work to make it accessible for their disabled son. For that, they’re counting on help from the VA and a nonprofit group called Rebuilding Together.

The Metties also wonder where to dig up $30,000 for their share of a specially equipped van they’ll be getting. Maybe they’ll raid the $100,000 insurance payment, though they meant it to safeguard his future.

Still, it would feel good to have him at home, Mettie’s mother has been thinking. Recently, she asked her son if he was ready to go.

He was holding his answer button. But he gave no reply.

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